They laughed They fished. They bonded. For a brief, fleeting, moment, it was magical. And then they left Henry's house.
Awards: Most Wanted WIP
Categories: Season Characters:
Gus, Henry, Jack Spencer, OMC, Shawn
Action/Adventure, Angst, Hurt/ComfortWarnings:
March 31, 2010 Updated:
November 24, 2021
So yeah, the start of this story has been sitting on my hard drive for over a year. I thought it might be time to fix that.
Many thanks to Dragonnan the Magnificent for being her typical awesome self.
1. This Is Where It Starts by SydneyWoo
2. Not Quite The 'Roughing It' I'd Imagined, But Thanks Anyway by SydneyWoo
3. It's Like That Opening Scene From The Andy Griffith Show. Except It's Completely Different by SydneyWoo
4. The Secret to Successful Fishing Lies in the Use of the Right Bait and Plenty of Dy-no-mite! by SydneyWoo
5. Fake Psychic on a Hot Tin Roof by SydneyWoo
6. Quick, Kids, Throw the Dirty Dishes in the Oven and the Laundry in the Bathtub, 'Cause We Got Company! by SydneyWoo
7. Screw-Ups, Stare-Downs, Do-Overs, and Just Needing To Get Away From It All by SydneyWoo
8. The Family That Plays Together Pretty Much Just Makes Themselves a Bigger Target by SydneyWoo
9. Snackless in Seattle by SydneyWoo
10. Another Freaking New Day in Paradise. Perfect. by SydneyWoo
11. Can You Hear Me Now? How Bout Now? Now? by SydneyWoo
12. This, Dear Children, Is What We Call 'a Problem'. by SydneyWoo
13. There's a Great, Big, Shiny, World of Hurt Out There Just Waiting to be Explored by SydneyWoo
14. All By Myself... Don't Wanna Be All By Myself... in a River... with a Freaking Trap on My Leg... by SydneyWoo
15. Chapter 15 by dragonnan
This Is Where It Starts by SydneyWoo
Trying something different with this story. *rubs hands together*
Disclaimer: All publicly recognizable characters, settings, etc. are the property of their respective owners. The original characters and plot are the property of the author. The author is in no way associated with the owners, creators, or producers of any media franchise. No copyright infringement is intended.
The old road curved a winding trail through the hills just outside of Santa Barbara. Never a decent road in all the years since he’d first came here when still dating Madeline. Still, Henry supposed, it could be worse.
“Are you trying to get us killed?”
He pinched the bridge of his nose, questioning his sanity not for the third time since leaving the house this morning. The truck took another hard hit as the front driver’s side tire dipped deep into the pothole, followed in seconds by the rear. Knowing that it was going to happen allowed himself to brace and roll with the impact. His passenger’s, however, had no such luxury. His hand left the bridge of his nose to cover the slight smug grin he couldn’t quite bring himself to lose. He felt a good deal of satisfaction at the resulting protests after having given them a demonstration at just what not trying to avoid the bad spots felt like in comparison.
“So, dad, why are we doing this again?”
Henry said nothing in response, save for glancing up into the rear view mirror to confirm that his son wasn’t really expecting an answer. Shawn’s attention had already been diverted to something outside the window as he leaned over Gus’ lap to get a better look, earning a slap for his efforts. Henry merely rolled his eyes and refocused his attention on navigating a path through the minefield of the pitted, unkempt, road. The going was slow and he was already mentally making reminders to take the truck to the garage for an alignment.
“So, Henry, why are we doing this again?” His own father chirped. Figured he’d join forces with the kid. It seemed like such a good idea. Male bonding. Fishing. Outdoors. Dad only comes back to Santa Barbara every blue moon and it timed out perfectly with this particular ritual.
Once the truck chassis was straightened out, he would get his head examined.
“This was your idea, dad. You wanted to go fishing while you were in town.”
“No, I just said that sitting around your place all day was boring.”
Henry resolutely ignored the snickers emanating from the back seat, veering the truck hard to the right to avoid a fallen sapling that had blocked off the left half of the road. Another hard tug to the left pulled the vehicle sharply around a particularly deep hole. One last sharp jerk and the truck straightened. A quick check of the mirrors confirmed that the gear was still strapped down securely – not that he expected anything less, having secured the load himself.
“And you’re sure it’s okay to use the cabin.”
“Yes pop,” he assured again. “it’s fine.”
“You’re absolutely certain. After all, you’re technically not the owner anymore,” Gramps made sure to point that out – as if he’d forgotten that little tidbit.
“Technically, I was never on the paperwork before. It was fine then, it’s fine now,” he stated with finality hoping to put this painful discussion to rest where it belonged.
“But you’re sure it-“
“Dad!” He spared a quick glance to his right to fix the older man with a glare. Quickly, he turned his attention back to the pitted road. He made several quick adjustments in the nick of time just as the right tire glanced the edge of a large boulder.
“All I’m saying, Henry, is that Maddie may not appreciate trespassers on her property. But if you’re absolutely certain she won’t mi-“
“it’s fine. I called her before we left. It’s fine. Everyone got that?” He projected his voice authoritatively and felt the vibration from the resulting rattle as the windshield rattled slightly in protest. “ It’s fine.”
“Are you sure?”
Henry took in a deep breath, ignoring the question and tightened his grip on the wheel. He was determined not to lose control over the weekend before it had even started.
“So mom’s a property owner, huh?” The peanut gallery piped up from the backseat. Shawn, not content to merely sit back and enjoy the view, wiggled his shoulders to lean over the back of the front seat. “That’s pretty sweet!” He exclaimed as he once again began messing with the buttons on the radio.
“Shawn,” he warned before slapping the hand away from the stereo system. His dad had just dropped the subject and he’d be damned if he wanted to start round two. Leave it to Shawn.
“Ow! What? I’m just saying that I didn’t know that. What else does she own that I don’t know about? What else are you hiding out on me, dad?” Shawn demanded in whining tones.
“Technically, your mother doesn’t own the property either. It belongs to her side of the family and the property is held in trust.”
“I have no idea what you just said to me,” Shawn huffed as he roughly set further back in his seat. “None. Gus?” Henry could feel him crossing one leg over the other as the driver’s side of the seat was pushed awkwardly and uncomfortably forward. He frowned but said nothing, determined not to give the kid the satisfaction.
“He means you can’t sell the cabin on ebay to support your churro habit.”
“Weellllll doesn’t that just suck?” Shawn whined.
“Yes, Shawn, it sucks,” Henry pitched in, glancing at his son via the rear view mirror. “Especially when the responsibility will eventually fall on you to manage the upkeep of this place.” Shawn’s eyebrows rose questioningly and he pursed his lips in consideration of the words. A moment later, the questionable look was gone and blankness took its place. Henry merely rolled his eyes as Shawn began shaking his head in confusion.
“What are you saying to me? Gus?” Shawn looked towards his friend for support.
Gus shrugged before letting his focus drift sideways and stared back through his own window. “I’m staying out of this. You’re on your own.”
For a moment, Henry truly considered just letting the matter drop. After all, it would certainly be easier for all involved. But, being that Shawn was the eventual rightful heir, Henry finally decided that it was only fair to inform the kid. Someday, he’d be the one making that annual trek to the mountains, someday. Truth be told, Henry didn’t mind any of this. He enjoyed the process of light handiwork involved with keeping tabs on the old place. If Mad never did a thing with the family property it was fine by him. He was fairly certain that his son wouldn’t be too keen on any of this anyway.
“Who do you think manages this property, Shawn? Your mom? Who lives out of the country most of the year?”
“Umm…I was thinking maybe helper elves?” Shawn cocked his head, daring his father to deny the possibility.
“Well put on your pointy hat and shoes, pal – welcome to the North Pole.”
“Oh. My. God – that’s what this is about! We’re your hired hands.”
“Shawn,” the eldest Spencer admonished. “Don’t be ridiculous, you should know your father better than that.”
“Thank you, dad.”
“You’re welcome, Henry.” Henry smiled proudly as his dad clapped him on the shoulder in a rare show of a united front. “Shawn should know by now that you have no intention of hiring anyone. You’re all about the free labor.”
Henry opened his mouth to respond to the barb before promptly shutting it. The last turn leading to the cabin had approached much faster than expected – which was exactly why he shouldn’t have allowed himself to be distracted. Taking his foot off of the accelerator, he allowed the truck to coast for a few seconds before applying the brake and giving the wheel a hard crank. Dust billowed up in swirls, surrounding the truck and leaked into the semi-lowered windows. He duly ignored the dramatic coughs and yelled protests of the passengers as they were thrown about the cabin.
The last leg of the journey surpassed all previous legs in sheer torture. Not so much a road, anymore, as a hollowed washed out trail that had seen better times. The deep ruts encapsulated the tires and ensured that the truck had to take on each dip and hole. Like a train car attached to the rail, the truck was now part of the environment. Taking it slow just prolonged the agony. And so with grit and determination, Henry blocked out the protests and whines and plowed ahead theorizing that if he went fast enough the tires would skim over the deepest parts.
The truck lurched again, pitching and rolling violently before settling back down hard into the established rutted rails. Readjusting his grip on the wheel and using the leverage it offered to shift his seating position back into line, Henry, not for the fifth time, congratulated himself on the strict ‘no beverages/no snacks’ policy he’d instituted before pulling out of the driveway earlier that morning. There was no way that the interior of the borrowed truck would survive unscathed if open containers were allowed in the cabin.
There it was. Just ahead. Sweet relief and their destination.
Henry allowed himself to take in the sight, drinking it deep. He could easily look past the overgrown vines which wound themselves tightly against the rough hewn siding year after year. More trees had fallen victim to the elements though, gratefully, none had landed on the cabin. Based on their leafless state, he surmised that the trees had died out during the previous year. This was fortunate as he had remembered to bring along the chainsaw. If he got nothing else out of this trip, he’d make dead sure he’d at least get some seasoned firewood for his efforts.
Finally the road smoothed into a vague imitation of a driveway. He followed the graceful curve and slowed the truck, letting it coast to where the established drive ended, a hundred yards or so from the cabin. Shutting off the ignition, the diesel engine rumbled down, clicking as the built up heat released into cooler air.
For just a moment, he sat there, taking it all in – the beauty of nature highlighted by the graceful sway of pines and oaks in the gentle breeze. The loud chugging of the borrowed truck and the worsened road conditions had taken a toll on this senses. He’d been so focused on navigating the terrain that he simply hadn’t allowed himself to dwell on the serenity of the shaded cabin, the songbirds happily chirping and the quiet rustle of…potato chip bag?
He quickly released the seatbelt buckle, placed his elbow on the back of the bench seat and whipped himself around, glaring at his son who sat carefree and oblivious surrounded in crumbs, greasily smeared and scattered all around the back of the interior.
“What?” Shawn shrugged glancing around with his trademark ‘who me?’ expression.
Inhaling deeply, Henry slowly turned back to grip the steering wheel tightly and questioned himself again on just what he had thought they would accomplish with this outing.
Counting down from ten, he felt his blood pressure begin to ebb back down towards tolerable levels.
“Henry,” pops piped up from where he sat still gathering his belongings in preparation to exit the truck. “You’re certain this is alright with Maddie?”
Again, Henry said nothing but clenched his jaw tightly and opened the door with a little more force than normally required. Slowly, he eased himself out of the truck and to the ground. The rough ride had done a number on his back. He stood there for a moment, just allowing his legs to get used to the idea of standing upright again after being cramped for much longer than anticipated.
With the last of the immediate bags pulled from the truck’s interior, the party had all agreed that the remaining supplies would be unloaded later…much later.
They made their way closer to the cabin, Henry being waved off of any attempts to help his father traverse the uneven footing finally gave up trying. He shook his head at Shawn who passed them both without a backwards glance.
Something had been niggling at him for the past few minutes, but whether it was the rough ride that could be blamed for possible brain damage or just the fact that he was already at his wits end with his family and the weekend had not yet even officially begun. Whatever the reason, Henry cursed himself as his senses caught up with him. In a state of renewed urgency, he rushed forward to intercept Shawn. Quickly, he reached out and clapped his hand on his son’s shoulder, pulling him backwards and directing him to stay behind. With an index finger held to his lips, Henry motioned to everyone to remain quiet and stay low.
Stiffly, with protesting knees, he crouched down. Without looking, he deftly reached down and lifted up a pantleg to re move the small gun from the holster.
“I do NOT believe you!” Shawn whispered in horrified outrage.
With brusque movements imitating the slashing of a throat, Henry motioned at him to shut up. The gesture was futile as his son’s ire only increased.
“How come Gus and I couldn’t bring our phones, iPods or games but YOU get to bring a gun, huh?” Shawn hissed with drawn eyebrows.
“Shut up already and get down you idiot,” Henry whispered in return pointing at a focus point behind him.
“It’s not fair,” Shawn whispered again from behind. He pouted in disappointment but nevertheless actually did what he was told.
Henry scrunched his face in disgust and once again waved and arm, gesturing the group to stay behind him.
“Henry?” His dad questioned in a hushed whisper. Not wanting to risk unnecessary noise anymore than they had, he chose to signal instead; pointing towards the smoke drifting from the chimney. Gus raised his eyebrows in dawning understanding and simply nodded.
They broke formation, creeping low to the ground as possible. The tall redwoods provided a lot of cover and the men took advantage of this, moving strategically closer to the small house in slow increments.
They all fanned out, spreading themselves further apart and covering a larger area. Of course, Henry thought, the problem of only one gun between them might cause an issue later on – but, they had to work with what they had available. Still, he had to give the boys credit where credit was due; Shawn and Gus were doing an adequate job of advancing quietly across the flanking perimeter. He watched in satisfaction as they crept along on the balls of their feet – just as they had been taught. They had the side and back covered, nodding that all was clear. He glanced to the opposite side of the house where his dad, despite his advancing age, also slipped back into the familiar role with practiced familiarity and gave the signal that he too was in place.
Henry, himself, couldn’t deny the thrill and nerve-wracking tension of advancing into the unknown. Bringing the weapon up higher and gripping the handle tautly, he would forego using the handrail for balance as he quietly inspected the three short stairs. The wood was old and though he knew the supporting joists were solid last year on his annual visit – last year the need for a stealthy entrance wasn’t a key factor. He shuffled slightly to the left with the strategy of attempting to land on the stairs where they rested on the supporting frame underneath – if it went according to plan, any resulting creaks would be kept to a minimum.
He took a deep breath and willed his heartbeat to slow with his movements. This could not be rushed. He shifted his weight back, tightened the grip on the handgun and readied himself to ease up on the first step.
A large hand clapped hard on his shoulder and very nearly did him in. Experience and sheer dumb luck kept the gun from firing as he jerked backwards, startled off balance. He whirled around in surprise, unable to form words just yet as he met his opponent head on.
“Hey bro. Whatcha doing?”
Not Quite The 'Roughing It' I'd Imagined, But Thanks Anyway by SydneyWoo
Oh Dragonnan - why must you inspire me so? Thank you more than I can say for helping to add so many layers. It makes my brain gleeful. XD
Supplemental Note: I should also state that in this universe, Grandpa Spencer is very much alive. After all, no one has officially stated he's dead. Until they do - he's not. Leastwise not yet...*shifty eyes*
Also, for the record, this story takes place sometime soon-ish following the events of Mr Yin Presents. I hadn't actually planned it that way, but Shawn insisted that he needed it that way for closure. Who am I to resist him when he gets all pouty and angstified?
“Hey bro. Whatcha doing?”
Shawn heard the familiar voice and raced around the back of the cabin and launched himself to the top of the porch – opposite to the mother of all staredowns currently in progress.
“Get the hell off of my property.”
“Oh wait there now, big brother, in case you might have forgotten this isn’t exactly your property if, uh, memory serves correct.”
Shawn couldn’t see his father’s face from his current vantage point. Not that it really mattered – his dad’s posture; wide shoulders set square, visible on either side of his uncle’s narrowish features combined with the cartoonish plumes of steam rising from the reddened bald forehead filled in the missing picture quite nicely.
Henry was pissed.
Truth be told, Shawn could honestly say he’d never seen his dad quite so pissed before. Remarkable, really, not even when he was carted off to the holding cells had he ever seen such a look of pure, murderous, rage.
“Uncle Jack!” Shawn hastily ran forward to interrupt the showdown before it had a chance to escalate.
“Shawny – my boy!” Jack exclaimed and pulled him into a restrained hug. Jack pulled back after a quick slap to his back and then stepped back to look at him from an arms-length away. Shawn noted the way his eyes crinkled around the edges – more accurately, the way the crow’s feet seemed much less than pronounced, more restrained, than they had been since the last time. The last time he’d seen his uncle’s joyous expression as he sped away – leaving Gus and himself to the wolves.
Shawn glanced over his uncle’s shoulder to catch the gaze of his father. Henry had a moment to simmer down from a rolling boil, but Shawn knew he’d have to keep the two men separated for the time being. That little bald teapot had yet to shout. When the time came to tip him over, well, Shawn thought, he wasn’t planning on being anywhere near for that.
“I can manage by myself, thank you very much!” Gramp’s distinctive voice rasped echoing through the woods. Shawn stepped back from his uncle, taking in the expression of surprise. Jack’s throat worked up and down. Shawn looked back and forth between the two as Gramps struggled to make it up the short stairs, proving to everyone that he did not need help – thank you very much. Regardless, Gus hung back – always the boy scout – ever prepared, Shawn noted with no subtle amount of pride.
As if this doomed trip to the rugged underworld wasn’t already uncomfortable enough, his skin crawled as he watched the group come to terms with Uncle Jack’s unexpected presence. Henry’s reaction was a given; Shawn knew that the next time the two brothers met, there’d be fireworks. He wasn’t quite prepared for the level of Henry’s sheer rage, but he anticipated it nonetheless.
Gus was also an enigma. Shawn couldn’t help but glance furtively as he made his way cautiously to his best friend’s side. Apathy. Not hardly ever a word associated with Gus. After all, when Gus went out of his way to look like he was pretending to not notice someone there was a distinctive nose-flick (apart from his super cool nose-flick) and he absolutely refused eye contact. Jack actually seemed to shirk from the gazed daggers that Gus shot his way. Shawn’s lips pursed and his eyebrows waggled in dumbfounded amazement.
But Gramps, Shawn breathed out; Gramps was turning out the be the biggest mystery of them all. He had yet to say anything to his youngest son. A fact that did not seem to go unnoticed by Jack.
“Hey there, Pops,” Jack said softly. His shoulders slumped and he jammed his fists into his pockets. “I didn’t figure on seeing you here.”
“Hmmpff,” Grandpa huffed. His bushy eyebrows quirked this way and that as he gazed up and down on his youngest son. Shawn noted the familiar appraisal and the way it seemed to make Jack turn in on himself in absolute discomfort. “It’s been a while.”
“Yeah, pop, it has,” Jack stammered. Suddenly, he threw out his arms and gestured to the great wide open. “But I’m here now – what say everyone come inside and we get this party started? Huh? Whose with me? Kid?”
Shawn startled as Jack pointed his direction. He questioningly brought a finger to his chest and looked questioningly to Gus. Gus just clamped his jaw and slightly shook his head. Shawn cocked an eyebrow and gestured towards the door, ticking his head to the left and shrugging with his shoulders.
Gus’ head jerks became more erratic and he started mumbling something through his teeth that sounded something like “dohnjooet”. He scoffed at had to have been an old spelling word and sneered. If Gus wanted him to do something, Shawn figured that he should know by now to use small words and easily understood phrases. It was Gus’ job to provide clear and concise direction. “Shawn, don’t use peanut butter to clean the tv screen.” But if Gus couldn’t spell out what he was thinking, how was Shawn supposed to know the difference?
“Uncle Jack! How on earth did you find us here?” Shawn bounded back to Jack’s direction. Not giving him a chance to respond, Shawn guided him by the elbow, rushing him into the house and away from the others before round two had a chance to begin. As he shoved Jack through the door, he glanced over his shoulder and glared at everyone to make nice and behave.
Shawn slowed in his own entrance, taking in his surroundings. It had seemed like a small eternity since he’s been here last. Of course, then he’d just assumed that it was just another cabin. Knowing now that it was his mom’s place, or her family’s place, or whoever’s place caused an uncomfortable feeling in the pit of his stomach. All the years he’d just assumed she had nothing – was left penniless and homeless…
He coughed down the thought and fanned the air of non-existent dust – wishing at the curious glance of his father that the interior of the cabin supported his efforts.
The place just seemed so much smaller than he remembered from the few outings here as a kid. The mounted deer head still hung from the wall. Someone had long ago removed the hat he’d so carefully placed on Alfonso’s head years ago. Shame, that.
The fireplace still looked exactly as he remembered, he noted. Shawn continued to walk slowly around the room, picking up various objects, touching others. Soaking it all in. Memories. Some good. Others more…complicated.
His father’s voice cut through his inner musings. “So Jack, how did you find us?” Shawn was grateful in the short term that he had yet to really dwell on the feelings that returning here had awakened. But maybe he spoke too soon as his dad crossed his arms and fixed his uncle with a stare. Henry wasn’t going to back off of this, he was sure. Maybe it was for the best, he wondered. They could get this done and over with and get back to the idea of having ‘fun’.
“Regardless of what you might think, Henry, I wasn’t actually looking for you. But I’m glad to see that you still think of yourself so highly, big bro.”
“Save it Jack. You’re here for a reason, so spill. If you’re not tracking us down, then why are you here?” His dad’s cold, blue, eyes burned with fury.
“Why can’t a guy just show up and visit family?” Jack asked defensively.
Shawn watched in curious amazement as Henry stalked up to his brother and stood within an inch of his nose. Given the fumes of barely restrained anger still billowing off his dad in waves, Shawn thought briefly of calling in a tip to Lassiter; a domestic disturbance in the making. Given that his phone was confiscated, well, Shawn had no option but to sit back and watch with ever growing discomfort.
“Family, Jack? You dare bring up family?” Henry brought up a finger, pointing it just under Jack’s eye line. “You left my son to face down your armed partners and ran to save your tail – you have no business wanting to visit family, Jack.”
“Oh come on, Henry! That was two years ago,” Jack whined. “Are you really gonna hold that grudge? Look,” Jack pointed in Shawn’s direction again. “He’s fine! Look at him.”
He caught his dad’s gaze again, very briefly, before he carefully began his review of the floor. The hardwood needed refinishing and splinters had started to form. Someone should definitely take care of that soon. He scuffed his sneaker against the grain.
“It’s getting late. You’ll stay the night, but I expect you gone in the morning. That’s an order.”
Shawn winced again as the front door slammed behind Henry’s wake. His steps fell hard on the front porch. Quiet reined inside the cabin and each breath could be heard. Even the birds had fallen silent outside as the slamming of the truck’s doors echoed through the hills. He supposed most of the gear would remain intact.
He glanced out the window to watch one of the bedrolls fly through the air and land against the base of a tree.
“You okay, man?”
Shawn glanced up quickly, surprised at Gus’ stealth. He nodded. “Yeah, I’m good.”
“Your dad is really mad,” Gus acknowledged.
“Yeah, he’s pretty mad,” Shawn agreed.
“I don’t think I’ve ever seen him that mad ever,” Gus shook his head, scrunching his face. “I thought he was scary before.”
“Hmmm…he’s even scarier mad than that time I told him that you broke his special police scanner.”
“Shawn! I didn’t break nothing,” Gus exclaimed.
“Don’t worry, buddy,” Shawn assured. “He knows you didn’t mean it. And look! He forgave you eventually, so it’s all good.”
“Whatever Shawn. All I know is that the sooner we can get out of here, the sooner-“
“-we can get you back to your Animal Planet documentaries…I know, buddy,” Shawn placed a hand on Gus’ shoulder watching with delight as his friend refused to make eye contact. He held his hand in place until Gus flicked at his nose and then released him with a chuckle.
Gus’ expression as he stalked away, slamming the door and quickly walking out to the truck to help ‘unload’ the truck lightened Shawn’s mood considerably.
He looked around the interior again. The waning daylight serving only to increase the shadows in the corners, reminding him once again just how creepy this place could be at night. Gramps and Uncle Jack stood off to the corner, deep in conversation. He had no idea what had exchanged between the other two, but at least they had seemed to reconnect. He sighed out in relief, unsure of why the slight confrontation between the two would cause him such surprising anxiety.
Shawn pushed off from the table, suddenly feeling the smallness of the room closing around him. He padded across the wooden floor, sure to roll from the balls of his feet, and made his exit unnoticed. He sauntered across the porch and leaned heavily on the handrail, allowing his head to dip forward and his eyes to close.
He stayed there for a while. Long enough that he finally noted that the songbirds and woodland insects had begun their signature calls once again. He smirked at the thought of the creatures become acclimated to Henry’s moods rather quickly. Blowing out a long breath, he allowed the built up tension to flow out of his body, giving one last grip to the rail beneath his clenched fists. He stood transfixed on the glow of dusk as it fell across the tree tops.
Hollow steps announced the presence of an approaching companion. Without having to look he recognized the unique gait of his father, even feeling it through the vibrations under his own feet. Shawn looked up in time to see his father’s eyes crinkle as he moved to stand shoulder to shoulder with him, not before clapping him solidly on the back.
“Nice night,” Henry stated.
“Yeah,” he admitted with a nod. “It is.”
“The truck is unloaded and everything is unpacked.”
“Sweet,” he said softly, grateful that his dad didn’t seem to be upset, merely stating a fact. He halfway expected a lecture on helping pull his weight this weekend, or to at least carry his own luggage. Probably for the best, he mused. Uncle Jack’s unforeseen addition to the festivities had the dramatic effect of throwing everything off balance. It’d been hard enough trying to find his center with working between his dad and Gramps after so long apart from them both…but this…well, it seemed to be affecting everyone.
Whatever, he was just grateful that his dad had seemed to calm down for the moment. He’d take it. Whatever ‘it’ was.
“What do you say we get supper on, pal?”
He considered it for the first time since arriving. His store brand mini-bag of potato chips had long worn off. Then again, dredging up sore memories did not for a good appetite make. The outside fresh air and dramatic cooling off of nighttime did, however. His stomach protested instantly, encouraging him to return to the close confines of the cabin.
He followed Henry cautiously inside, amazed at the transformation that had occurred while his mind had demanded a temporary separation. Gus stood near the fireplace, adding another log. He struggled to awkwardly place it on top of the burgeoning fire. Shawn could see that he was reluctant to get too close to the flames while keeping a tight grip on the roughened wood. The aroma was comforting in its earthiness, mingling with the wondrous smell emanating from the kitchen area. Shawn craned his neck forward, trying to catch a glimpse of the heavenliness that would be their dinner.
Around and behind him, cots had been unfolded and tightly draped with bedding – complete with hospital corners and crisp edges. He’d expect nothing less, after all.
All in all, the place looked suddenly very…homey, lived in, warm.
The fire finally took hold, casting long and dancing shadows against the textured walls – bathing the room with an eerie glow. For all of its warmth and comfort, Shawn could as well admit to no one but himself that it scared the hell out of him.
The way he figured he had two options. Option one: hijack the truck and beat it back to town. Doubtful that he’d manage that one successfully. Option two it was.
He made his way to the corner of the central area that serviced as the kitchen and began rummaging through drawers, pointedly ignoring the curious glances directed his way. It took some sifting through various odds and ends, the likes of which he couldn’t begin to imagine what kinds of torture they were designed to inflict. Somewhere amidst the sharp and pointy unrecognizable knick-knacks, wads of rubber bands and spools of fishing line, he at last found what he was looking for.
Gathering the box of matches and handful of candles, he set out on his own personal mission. His dad looked at him knowingly but thankfully remained silent, resuming his seasonings to the stew simmering on the stove. Shawn made his way clockwise around the cabin’s open floorplan. He lit every oil lamp he could find. If there was a corner or nook that didn’t have a furnished lamp, he set out a candle in its place.
When at last every last wick had been attended to to his satisfaction, Shawn stepped back to admire his handiwork. Now this was home. He nodded in satisfaction as the little house glowed, biting back a pang at the crying shame that such a romantic setting should be wasted. He was pulled from those self-defeating thoughts suddenly before he had a chance to dwell.
“What’s the matter there, Shawny,” Uncle Jack laughed. His eyes twinkled with amusement. “You’re still not scared of the dark, are you?”
He could only stare at his uncle dumbfounded, his lips slightly pursed as his mind struggled to respond.
Rescue would come from an unlikely source – not Gus, although his buddy had taken up position next to his side, resuming his previous glare with hands in his pockets. Shawn had to admit, with a nod in his friend’s direction, Fearless Guster was a bit of a badass.
“Lay off Jack,” Henry sat the pot of steaming beef stew on the table, likely harder than necessary as liquid sloshed down the sides.
“Oh come on – I don’t mean anything by it. After all, it’s not like the kids not what? Thirty years old?” He chuckled, compounding Shawn’s humiliation.
“I don’t know about anybody else, but I’m scared of the dark,” Gramps’ scratchy voice crackled in sync with the fire. “Always have been.” Shawn turned his head towards Gus to see a mirror image of his own surprised expression. Who knew? Though it was a nice save on Gramps’ part, he didn’t get the feeling that the intervention was anything but a happy coincidence. No way did Shawn share anything but simple, shallow, pleasantries with Gramps and he knew for a fact that Henry wouldn’t divulge info upon pain of death.
It was the Spencer way.
“I remember,” Henry joined in. “You always did keep the bathroom light on. Said it was for ‘us kids.’”
“It’s true, all of it,” Grandpa Spencer laughed loudly; his merriment infectious. Before long, Shawn chuckled and felt his own anxiety begin to melt, dissolving with the shadows into the far corners.
His dad gave a subtle wink in his direction. Shawn was very nearly overwhelmed at that moment, surprising himself with a sudden and unexpected flood of warmth. For the first time in the entirety of his life, he realized that he couldn’t care less that his Uncle Jack was here in town.
He loved his uncle severely. Where trinkets and dime store baubles used to capture his imagination of his uncle’s heroic travels, they now seemed trivial and paltry. Perhaps he’d change his mind, someday. Maybe the day that Uncle Jack chose to dive under a pier armed with only a Swiss Army knife, he would once again look up to him with starry eyes and a puffed chest. But until that day, that honor was reserved for another.
It's Like That Opening Scene From The Andy Griffith Show. Except It's Completely Different by SydneyWoo
So...yeah *blush* I apologize for the extreme delay. This story has wanted to change direction on me quite a few times. I think we've finally come to an understanding. Many forever thanks to dragonnan for helping to tame this beast as well as for the exquisite assist. I absolutely could not do this without her help.
As it turned out, ironically enough, getting everyone awake and out the door before the full break of morning sunlight hadn’t been very difficult. From all appearances, Henry gathered from puffy eyes, mussed hair and gravelly voices, restful sleep had been sorely lacking for everyone.
He took another moment to pause and brace his hands against his lower back, stretching abused muscles that continued to berate him for the lumpy mattress. Odd. He had always slept like a king whenever he’d returned here. In fact, he could say that he’d never slept better than whenever he could slip up to the high country for a weekend or two. Maybe it was the age of the mattress; it had been a part of the old homestead since the days he’d first begun dating Maddie. No telling how long it had been there before him.
Could be the springs of the cot had simply rusted in place, no longer providing the much needed support that they used to.
Could be a lot of things, he supposed. Or, it could be that the mattresses here (just like those in his own home) couldn’t make up for a long night of wondering what was waiting just beyond in the shadows. Would any of them would ever truly rest peacefully again? Doubtful. All Henry knew was that he had a personal stake, and soon professionally, in never letting down his guard. Ever.
This weekend would be good for all of them. Next week he’d start in his new position. Consultant Liaison. Distasteful. He couldn’t even spit the title out without a sneer. It was a valuable position, he knew. He’d fought it when it was first presented just as he fought it now. But recent events made it painfully obvious that he was needed. He wouldn’t deny that feeling needed felt damn good.
His back, on the other hand, would take some time.
“Let’s pick up the pace!” He called out over his shoulder. Without really looking, he stooped over and let his fingers snag a loop of the backpack. Slinging it across one shoulder, he resumed the trek towards prime fishing. With any luck, the hike and relaxed morning of fishing would clear his head of the cobwebs and maybe provide an opportunity to break it to the kid that he had a new supervisor.
Or maybe it could wait until they got back…
No matter what, Henry was determined to fish. Anything else was immaterial.
The whoosh of slender branches and crunching leaves echoed throughout the valley. He winced at the noise of his group. They had all the subtleties of a troop of prancing hippos. With some effort, Henry found he could tune out most of the noise. Even the mocking whispers aimed his direction.
Especially those of his own father intermingled with the boys. Sometimes, he wasn’t sure who amongst them was the biggest kid.
He still had some options available to him and with that he pressed on just a bit faster. If it was that easy for them to whisper behind his back, then they had plenty of extra lung power to spare. The increasing incline of the trail up ahead? Well, that was just a happy bonus.
Besides, they were so close. The rumble of the rushing stream had been audible for a few minutes. But as he trudged higher up the path, he could smell water. It was refreshing as he forced himself to breathe through his nose, filling up his lungs in deep heaves.
His group behind him was doing likewise based on the huffing gasps of the princesses and the court jester.
Five more steps….and he was there. The trail’s final stretch was always the clincher; harsh and rocky and very steep. Those who stuck to the end were gifted with the entrance to a dramatically different landscape. Hills and valleys gave way to flatland – a false sense of security as the terrain just beyond this plateau shifted into much trickier footing. Sadly, those areas also contained the best fishing. But, he wasn’t alone on this outing and Gramps, though keeping up well, wasn’t as spry as he used to be, he conceded that this was a good enough spot. Between the lot of them, they should be able to snag at least a few river trout before heading back towards the cabin for lunch and some light repairs.
And he was reminded that he was getting way ahead of himself. Fishing and relaxation first, then they’d tackle the second portion of the day.
If they all survived i.e. if he allowed them to continue living.
Permitting himself a moment to take in deeper, cooling, breaths he could feel his heart rate ease back down towards normal rhythm. Henry squinted at the intense morning sun, bringing up a shielding hand. The morning dew was nearly burned away, yet still present enough to add a sheen to the gentle banks of the spring-fed stream. He took a few steps towards the water before he abruptly stopped. Turning his head slightly, he saw an object tucked in the underbrush that had caught the corner of his eye.
The old relic had seen better days, he sneered. Kicking it farther beneath the tree where it rested, he was satisfied leaving it there. The old trap had already sprung shut and wouldn’t do any more damage. Even after all these years, they still turned up every now and then – a throwback to times past. It wasn’t even that he was anti-trapping. That wasn’t it. This was a matter of a different principle. You bring your crap into the woods, you take it home with you. Simple as that.
He was pulled from his inner ranting monologue with a booming voice shattering the relative peace and quiet of the woods. No doubt also scaring away any few fish that might have inhabited this unlikely fishing hole.
“Are you trying to kill us all you sick, twisted, old man?”
He cocked an unimpressed eyebrow as his father hitched up and over the final crest. The elder man was beet-faced and huffing but was managing adequately well. He was also not the owner of the booming voice. That honor was reserved for the top of the head just now clearing the top of the trail. The two idiots clinging to each other for support, bent over at the waist and wheezing like they had a five pack a day habit had no excuse.
Gus stopped breathlessly, dropping to his knees before sliding onto one hip. One palm on his thigh, one propping him upright. “This is aggravating my supraventricular tachycardia.”
Henry shook his head and went about his task of setting up for a morning of fishing.
“Gus,” Shawn panted through his teeth, “there are just some things a man needs to keep to himself.” Crumpling like a wrung out rag, he collapsed to the ground in a relatively bare patch near the sloping edge of the bank. Stones scattered. Shawn kicked out his legs in a dramatic display sending a few polished rocks tumbling down the embankment before landing with a plunk.
Henry bowed his head and closed his eyes. He quickly shifted his rod to his other hand. He was overloading his own grip and he knew it, but it was necessary. With his free hand, he massaged deeply the growing throbs of his forehead, watching in fascination as the bursts of tension seemed to flow in time with the ripples of the stones making their way into the water.
One by one…
“Shawn, stop it!” He barked out the order before he could even temper the volume of his own voice. Their placement in this peaceful valley ensured that his voice carried out in a wave of echoes. Ironically, keeping time with the oscillating ripples of water and throbbing of veins.
The legs never stopped their ceaseless twitching, but Shawn’s head did raise a few inches from the ground as he looked up.
Not buying the angelic expression in the slightest, Henry tossed the smallest of the tackle boxes in his son’s direction, turning away even before watching to ensure the box had been safely caught. “Quit making so much commotion, you’ll scare the fish.”
Shawn rolled over to his knees before pulling himself unsteadily upright, Gus following suit as they began slapping themselves in earnest. “No problem, then, all you’ve got to do is command them with your booming voice and they’ll turn right back around to turn themselves in.”
Billowing clouds of dust wafted over Henry as he stood downwind. The air currents moved in swirling waves, washing him in fine particles and tickling at his throat. Each billow passed over as if evenly tied to its predecessor. Much like ripples flowing outward, the pulse of his own heartbeat felt in his temples, the echo of voices off the nearby hills, or the growl building up in the base of his throat.
** *** **
Frustrated, impatient and very hungry, Shawn glanced down at his watch. All of five minutes, God he was sure it had been at least an hour since he’d taken the bet. He pinched his lips tighter as his knee lightly bounced up and down.
He had learned early in his childhood that the whole Let’s see who can be quieter, you or Gus game was a sham. The problem with that game was that the prize for winning failed to exceed the pure joy of making noise. Which was why Gus always won – Shawn always saw to it. And it worked out well for everyone. He was then free to make all the commotion he wanted and Gus had the pride and satisfaction of being the winner.
But now that there were actual stakes in the game, things were different.
He eyed the strawberry pop tart, perched on a five dollar bill and balanced on the tree stump between them, lovingly and adoringly. He glanced up just in time to catch Gus’ own look of longing and sneered. Gus returned the sneer and with great exaggeration mouthed back at him ‘it is on!’
Shawn narrowed his eyes, focusing all the contempt he could muster, and opened his mouth in preparation when the snap of a tree branch from behind averted his attention. He wasn’t the only one to whirl around to face the noise, as Gus, pops and Henry all did likewise.
Shifting the grip on his fishing pole, he raised it up to wield it much like a baseball bat and took a protective stance, stepping closer to block the pop-tart and fiver from view of a possible intruder whether it be animal or otherwise. Gus must have had the same inclination as he inched closer as well.
Now torn, Shawn shifted his body weight back and forth, unsure of just who was the greater danger here; the unknown tree shaker who might damage his handsome person, or Gus thiever of pop-tarts and five dollar bills. Another crackle of leaves and twigs amongst the overgrowth and Shawn reluctantly took his attention off of his ‘friend’ and focused on the now very close presence approaching.
He swallowed hard and gripped the rod tighter, feeling somewhat slightly more secure as his dad and gramps moved closer to he and Gus’ positions. He stepped slightly back towards the bank and looked backwards, realizing with a bit of dread that his escape options now consisted on climbing over the others in order to outrun what could very well possibly be an escaped axe murderer. That was doable – he had the grace and stamina of a gazelle. If need be, he could snag the tart and the money and make a break for it. He prepared for flight by filling his lungs with air, slow and steady. A quick burst, he focused on that, picturing cheetahs on the fly. He eyed the pop-tart again. His stomach rumbled, reminding him that if he had to run, he’d be running on an empty stomach.
Doubt overwhelmed him. Could he fly like the cheetah? Could he skim through the woods like a spring deer? He knew he could, and he nodded to himself in resolution, ignoring Gus’ cocked eyebrow.
Low slung branches and the small saplings lining the edge of the clearing shook. Shawn held his breath and repetitively shared nervous glances with Gus as the moment (played out entirely too often in slasher movies) milked itself for far too long.
A sudden insight occurred to him. He felt ridiculous for not realizing it before. He would have smacked a hand to his forehead if it hadn’t meant releasing his grip on the only weapon at his disposal.
He didn’t have to fly like the cheetah, or the gazelle, the spring deer, or even the warthog.
He only had to run faster than his dad.
His eyes brightened at this new found confidence and a smile spread, bringing warmth to his cheeks.
He nodded at the shaking undergrowth, daring it to bring it on in a big, big, way and set his stance. Shoulder perpendicular to the base, feel spread slightly wider than shoulder width, grip behind his ear. Shawn narrowed his eyes, squinting in the intensifying glare of the late morning sun. Just like Shoeless Joe Jackson in Field of Dreams, he put on his game face.
Eat your heart out Ray Liotta.
He bunched his muscles tighter and tighter, ready for the release.
The shrub closest to the edge of a narrow game trail crashed downward as a body tumbled off-balance into the clearing, frantically waving arms spastically.
And Shawn was ready for him. Without hesitation, without regards to his own personal safety, he reacted.
And he screamed.
And he screamed.
And he screamed.
The Secret to Successful Fishing Lies in the Use of the Right Bait and Plenty of Dy-no-mite! by SydneyWoo
Thank you to dragonnan for (in addition to many other things) making me wake up long enough to post this.
Also HUGE thanks and massive apologies to everyone who has reviewed so far. I feel one hundred kinds of fail for being so late to respond *blush*. I fear this one track mind that I've developed will be the end of me yet.
I also fear that this means that I'm turning into my mother. Not that my mom isn't epic and amazing...I'm just not ready to BE her yet. You know?
I think I should just shut up and get on to the story. Here we go!
It took a moment, no more than two, before Shawn realized there were no other terrible screams of neither mayhem nor murder to be heard above his own.
But just in case, he tapered off his manly shout of warning as he slowly opened one eye to perform a quick status check while the other remained squeezed shut.
Jack lay sprawled on the ground, his foot still entangled in a mass of tree roots and tangled limbs. His position made very awkward as he had fallen stretched far forward, providing no leverage to easily push himself back up. Instead, he could only inch backwards bit by bit to take pressure off his entrapped leg while finally being able to get his arms squarely beneath him. No one had yet made a move to help him.
Off to his right, Shawn heard the rustle of movement and caught a blur from his peripheral vision.
“Now that’s what I’m talking about,” Gus sneered. Shawn could absolutely hear the look on his face. It was loud. So loud. Even over the crinkle of packaging as it rubbed against fabric. Betrayal, as it so turns out, sounds exactly like a pop tart wrapper.
Looking down at the now empty tree stump, Shawn mournfully looked up to see his former friend shoving the bill and the pastry into the front pocket of his khakis.
“That is a fine singing voice you have their Shawn, my boy,” Jack huffed with exertion. Even strained, his voice carried in the valley. Shawn’s face flushed hot as Jack gave his leg a final, frustrated, tug; though the effort did not appear to diminish his amusement at Shawn’s expense. With crackling branches, his leg came free of the mass sending him tumbling forward, once again off balance.
His leg came free–his shoe did not.
Shawn’s recovering heart continued to beat out a frenetic rhythm in his ears, pulsating through the tips.
“What are you doing here, Jack?” Henry crossed his arms, waiting for an explanation.
Shawn had to give the man credit. He could not only stare a suspect into submission, he could also do so while randomly averting his attention to check his fishing lines without losing any of his intensity.
“Well bro,” Jack paused for a moment as he worked unsuccessfully to disentangle his sneaker from the underbrush. “Can’t a fella just feel like a walk through the woods?” The shoe popped free, nearly tipping him over sideways once again.
“I see,” Henry shrugged his shoulders with arms crossed. “So you just went for a random walk avoiding the known trails for what? The atmosphere? Bull.”
“Nah,” Jack casually looked around. Shawn couldn’t help but think that his non-chalant bearing appeared a bit forced. “Just taking in some bird watching. You know how much I love them birds. Flying around. Up there,” he pointed skywards. Shawn glanced up, noticing the attention of the others following likewise to the completely avian-free heavens.
Jack merely shrugged it off and finished putting on the errant shoe. He raised one hand in surrender and pushed himself up with the other. “Look, I didn’t come here for an argument.”
Shawn cocked an eyebrow astounded that his dad seemed to let the comment slide. Seemingly no longer willing to give Jack any more of his precious fishing time, Henry tightened the grip on his pole, turned on his heel, and stalked back to the bank.
Still the question remained – why did Jack come here?
Shawn’s eyes narrowed on his uncle’s manner. Wary eyes scanned rapidly up and down the clearing, a tic he’d seen dozens of times just in the last month. Guilt? Fear? Sometimes it was hard to tell.
Jack tugged sharply on his collar in rapid succession as sweat glistened on his forehead. Granted, Shawn could easily admit, the last stretch entailed a steep incline which could easily account for that. But there was something about the way he constantly shifted his weight, as if constantly evaluating possible exits and being ready to bolt at a moment’s notice.
“Is there a reason you’re shooting your uncle the death glare?” Gus asked softly as he sidled next to him.
“Hmm?” He replied distractedly as he continued to appraise Jack’s awkward conversation with his grandfather. He couldn’t make out words, but Shawn could easily discern that Jack wasn’t really focused – never truly making eye contact, but rather looking over Gramps’ head or just past his shoulder.
He glanced sideways briefly at Gus’ questioning tone. He could tell Gus was slightly worried. It warmed his heart somewhat.
“What’s up, buddy?” He asked even as he wondered if Gus’ concern could be used against him, perhaps guilting him to giving up his pop-tart.
“That’s what I’m asking you.”
Shawn cocked his head in consideration, leading his gaze back to where Jack stood. “Me thinks Uncle Jack is up to something.”
“Of course he’s up to something. He’s always up to something.”
“Look at him, Gus,” he gestured with his head. “He’s all sweaty.”
“I don’t have to look at him to know he’s up to something. And of course he’s sweaty. That’s the hike from hell. I’ve lost five pounds of water weight, Shawn.”
“Will you ju-“
“I’m not looking.”
Shawn huffed as Gus merely tipped his nose away and crossed his arms. He countered by cocking his head conspiratorially and leaning in closer, unperturbed that Gus merely inched away.
“Guuuss, you know you want to know what’s going on. I can feel it,” Shawn looked sharply up just in time to see Jack retreat back into the woods. “Dude, he’s leaving!” He whispered back faster, higher pitched.
Gus’ head quickly snapped back around and then returned to his previous disinterest before Shawn had the chance to remind him that he wasn’t supposed to care.
“Come on, Gus. Let’s follow him,” Shawn grabbed his friend by the arm, tugging him towards the head of the trail.
“No way, Shawn. No. Way.” Gus shook his head vigorously. He sharply pulled his arm from Shawn’s grasp and began marching back to the creek side.
Shawn had to jog quickly to catch up to him and block his progress, planting himself firmly in front of Gus and quickly sidestepping all efforts to walk past him.
“Come on, man,” Shawn cajoled smoothly. “I know you aren’t up for fishing. Don’t lie, Gus. Not to me. Not to Shawn. Not to the Shawnster. Not t-“
“I want breakfast sometime today. You know how your dad gets. I don’t want to go traipsing after your Uncle. Been there. Done that. You say he’s up to something, well yeah?! What else is new?”
Shawn merely lifted his hands in surrender, stepping to the side as his friend brushed by.
“Oh Gus…,” he allowed the pause to stretch between them, counting the beats before Gus hit the end of an imaginary tether and turned around.
“What?” Gus huffed, leaning to one side.
“Just remember. If you stay here, you have to bait your own hook and take your own fish off the line.”
“There’s my buddy!” Shawn turned, clapping his hands together. “Yo pops! Me and Gus are gonna take a walk just over yonder over by there. We’ll be back here before you even have a chance to miss us.”
Henry immediately dropped the pole he was adjusting, shaking his head adamantly. “No, Shawn. No, no, no. No way. Do not get caught up with whatever Jack has going on.”
“Sorry dad, gotta go. Good luck with your expedition. I hope lots of fish die to make you happy. See ya!”
Behind him, he heard his dad bellow. “You guys leave without catching breakfast, you don’t get any breakfast. Don’t forget that.”
He waved as he jogged away, passing Gus with a hard clap to his shoulder. “Let’s go before he throws rocks at us.”
“I hear that,” Gus agreed looking nervously over his shoulder.
Shawn squinted, peering up at the tree tops to see beams of sunlight filtering through the canopy. He wiped beads of moisture from his forehead and breathed out slowly. He was losing concentration after hours on the trail.
He was so thirsty. And hot. And tired. And really hungry.
How long had they been out here? He wasn’t sure. His stomach rumbled. He pursed his lips in surprise, clutching his belly, willing it to be quiet lest its rippled manliness give them clear away.
Gus sidled closer and whispered in his ear. “Shawn, we’ve been here for thirty-five minutes. There’s nothing happening. Let’s just go back to your dad.”
Disgusted with the notion, Shawn clucked his tongue and nodded sharply in the negative, waving Gus back so as to not give their position away.
As of yet, their expert tailing had yielded nothing. He was starting to think that perhaps this was a waste of time. Maybe this was all a very innocent hike in the woods. Maybe. Just maybe, his uncle really had picked up the pastoral hobby of bird-watching; the life of adventure no longer holding its appeal for him.
He quickly discounted that theory as Jack ran full on into a spider’s web which then led to a fairly amusing song and dance complete with flailing limbs. And he wondered again just how his uncle had managed to survive years in the exotic rainforests of the world.
“Okay, what do we know so far,” he asked as he turned around and leaned his back against the fallen tree that they had been using as a blind.
“We know that this has been a waste of time and that your dad’s going to be pissed.” Gus followed suit, sitting shoulder to shoulder.
“We know that Jack is up to something. We know that he’s looking for something out there. We also know that he’s afraid of spider webs.”
“So? And? Now what?” Gus asked heatedly. “We haven’t seen him do anything else than stumble around the woods like an idiot. It’s not exactly hard core criminal activity.”
“No, but you have to admit it is weird.”
“Any weirder than Lassiter’s new obsession with Twitter?”
Shawn nodded. “You do have me there, buddy. Which reminds me we’ve got to check out his followers. The man either made them up, or he threatened to arrest them if they didn’t follow him. Either way, it’s like the universe is messed up.”
“Dude, you’re telling me.”
“Anyway, back to what we know. We know that this has been a waste of time and that my dad’s going to be pissed. We should get back now and just keep an eye on Jack later.”
With that Shawn pushed himself up from the ground, ignoring the handfuls of forest litter flung against his back that pelted his cheeks and settled into his hair. Instead, he crept low and stealthy towards the trail back to the creek to join up with his dad and gramps.
By the time they arrived to meet up, Gus should have had plenty of time to reconsider and cool down.
A pine branch whapped him in the back of his head leaving a sticky line of sap on the back of his neck.
Or at the very least, maybe his arm would be tired.
Going back to the creek, as Gus had so smugly reminded him, had been a ginormous waste of time and energy. In fact, it had been such a bomb that Gus had felt the need to remind him every ten yards or so.
“Are you tired, Shawn? I’m tired too. If only we hadn’t wasted so much time.”
Or every time he stumbled on a loose rock or tree root.
“Ooh, Shawn, looking a little sloppy. Just think how much better you would feel if we hadn’t spent all day on a useless excursion.”
Or every time Shawn held a tree branch out of the general direction of his face and let it snap back to whack Gus in the eye.
“You do that one more time, Shawn, and I will kill you. But then again, I wouldn’t have to kill you if we weren’t out here to begin with. Isn’t that right, Shawn?”
“Oh thank God!” He jarred to an abrupt halt. A nanosecond later, Gus slammed into his back and knocked him into the clearing. His breath left his body for a moment as he landed on his stomach, no time to break his fall.
He didn’t care, though. He couldn’t get mad. Not with the beautiful sight of the little house in perfect view. It was perfect in all of its perfect glory. It’s perfect wrap-around porch. It’s perfect chimney with perfect smoke signaling that a perfect breakfast was waiting just inside.
It was perfect.
“Gus,” he held out a hand beseechingly as Gus stepped over his sprawled body. “Buddy, come on. Help a guy up!” He called out raspily in vain.
Gus only put on the speed, lengthening his stride and pumping his arms like a ridiculous mall walker.
“I thought you were tired!” He yelled, high pitched and brooding.
“Man,” he whined to no one in particular as he seriously considered just laying there for a while. Take in a nap, rest up for a while. His stomach rumbled again, this time vibrating oddly against the dirt pack. The smell of fire and hearth called to him, intensifying his hunger to unprecedented levels.
Wearily, Shawn pulled his knees underneath him until he could ratchet his way to a standing position before stumbling his way towards the cabin.
Using the last of his energy reserves he pulled himself up the stairs of the porch. Heavy footfalls signaled his entrance as he lumbered across the porch. A smile of relief spread across his face, straining his cheeks, tugging on the corners of his lips – his journey almost over. He could now smell the sweet aroma of breakfast, late as though it may be.
With a hand on the doorknob, he gave it a turn and threw the door open.
“I made it. I made it home, dad!” he cried out with joy, walking brusquely past Gus, ignoring the look of seething anger on his face as he made his way towards the table.
He braced his hands on the back of the end chair and scanned over the bounty. Fried apples, pan-seared river trout, buttered toast – a feast for kings. His eyes sparkled with delight.
“What do you think you’re doing Shawn?” Henry gestured emphatically with his knife. Shawn could only watch in agony as droplets of melted butter splattered onto the tabletop below. “Like I already told Gus, if you don’t help catch breakfast, you don’t get to help eat breakfast.”
“What?” Shawn winced in indignation. He turned to see Gus still standing in the same spot with the same look of seething fury.
“That’s what he said, Shawn. I told you that. Just like I told you following Jack was a humongous waste of time.”
“Maaaaan,” Shawn hissed sharply, crossing his arms and then inspiration struck. Slowly sidestepping, he sidled over to where his grandfather sat at the head of the table, to all appearances, fully engaged with his plate of food. If some things never changed, Grandpa Spencer had a curious habit of disengaging from everything else during a meal. He ignored his dad’s look of amused indifference and slowly reached towards the bowl of apples.
Catching Gus’ stare of rage, he winked at his buddy and mouthed “I got this”.
Seconds later he let out a strangled yelp and drew his hand tightly against his chest.
Incredulously, he stared at his grandfather with open-mouthed shock. Henry merely leaned back with crossed arms and a smile.
“Y-you just stabbed me…with a fork!”
“You just tried to steal my breakfast,” Gramps rasped before taking another slurp of coffee.
“No buts, my boy. Out here it’s every man for himself.”
Henry interjected, “I suggest if you want to join us for lunch that you meet me up on the roof in an hour.” And with that, he uncrossed his arms and returned to his meal with a chuckle.
Shawn could only stare in utter, starved, dejection at the two men. Numbly, he walked back to where Gus stood braced with hands on hips.
“So, how’d you like them apples, huh?” He chuckled lamely at his own joke.
“Shut up Shawn.”
“At least there’s lunch, right?” he cocked his head. “Look on the bright side, buddy,” with wide eyes and a smile, he clapped Gus on the arm, willing him to believe the inspirational speech and not murder him in his sleep.
Gus’ eyes brightened and Shawn felt hope warm his chest at the look of what must be forgiveness spreading over Gus’ face. Forgiveness gave way to a smug sneer as Gus reached into his pocket and produced the pop-tart from earlier. With great exaggeration, Gus unpeeled the wrapper and began eating the pastry in slow, sensuous, bites.
He returned Gus’ sneer with one of his own. “I hope you choke.”
Fake Psychic on a Hot Tin Roof by SydneyWoo
This goes out to dragonnan for letting pick up the pieces of mojo that she leaves scattered about because she simply has too much that she can't possibly carry it all.
Shawn Spencer was a man of many talents: strong, intelligent, handsome, debonair, gifted, stylish, smart, great hair.
He was the total package.
Some things just didn’t need to be proven. They just were.
It was something he’d picked up over the years. Something he’d nurtured over the course of a hundred first dates. And he owned it.
And not once did he need power tools in order to prove himself.
Real manly men shouldn’t need to advertise it. Or say it. Or do it. In fact, he’d go so far as to say that masculinity was an idea that could best be proven by what one didn’t do – bubble baths and spray tanning, for example. For a brief moment, he considered expressing this thought out loud. And then he remembered that he was standing on a ladder that could easily be pushed over by his father who even now hammered happily away at defenseless nails, driving them into the rooftop.
“Shawn, I told you I need roofing nails. We’re on a roof. Roofing. These are finishing brads.”
“Come onnnnnnnn! It’s all the same thing. They have a flat end and a pointy end. The pointy end goes down – end of story,” he gestured emphatically with one hand while the other gripped the ladder tightly. He overbalanced briefly and had to make a wild grab for the other grip.
“When you’re done fooling around bring up the roofing nails.” With that, Henry resumed hammering away into oblivion.
Shawn sneered and backed slowly down the ladder, feeling carefully for each rung below before fully stepping his weight down, repeating this process until finally stepping onto firm ground.
As he walked the path back to the truck for the fifteenth time in seemingly as many minutes, Shawn muttered obscenities under his breath.
Fishing through one of the many tool boxes stored in the truck bed, he fumbled through scads of nail boxes. Box after useless box. Nails of every shape and variety except the one that he had been sent to find. Box nails, casing nails, masonry nails, coated sinkers, uncoated sinkers, zinc finished, galvanized. The choices were endless – his patience, however, was not. With a rumbling belly, he made his choice. He grabbed three different boxes with the assumption that at least one of them should work and made his way back to the cabin.
He rounded the corner and upon hearing a familiar voice on the porch managed to pull back just in time and eased himself closer to the cabin wall. He flattened his back against the rough surface and edged closer to the corner. If he held his breath he found that he could make out the one-sided conversation just a little clearer.
He could hear Uncle Jack pacing as he whispered harshly into the handset. He could also feel the vibrations of his movements through the floorboards of the wrap-around porch. The deep overhang of the porch, the incessant hammering by his father on the other end of the roof, and their location in the valley served only to distort the conversation, making the task of eavesdropping nearly impossible. Whatever was going on at the receiver’s end had his uncle as worked up as Shawn had ever witnessed.
He heard the phone snap shut, startling him. For a brief moment, Shawn thought his uncle would retreat in his direction and catch him in the act of spying. However, Jack must have changed his mind as Shawn heard the creak of a board that signaled the shift of body weight as Jack performed an about face. He scurried off the porch and jogged down the path back into the woods. Shawn watched his hasty disappearance, the way he nervously looked in all directions. Every few feet he jogged backwards as if afraid of being followed.
Granted, he couldn’t say that he could pick out a single word of what was said. Hardly evidence that would be admissible in court. And, granted, he also had no idea who was on the other end of the line. It could very well have been an innocent call begging his uncle for his support of the latest fundraiser du jour. Shawn only knew that for as angry as Uncle Jack sounded on the phone, he appeared even more worried. Scared. Nearly panicked.
The implications of what that could mean for his uncle hit Shawn like the weight of fifty pounds of galvanized box nails sinking into his chest. Shawn had never once ran with his uncle through the woods while being chased by telemarketers. He hugged the boxes a little tighter, his eyebrows furrowed a little deeper, and his stomach rumbled a little louder.
His angered belly made him think of lunch. Lunch made him think of the yet-to-be-completed task of roof repairs. Roof repairs reminded him of the boxes of nails that threatened to spill out of his arms which, of course, circled his thoughts right back around to his dad still hammering away on the roof.
Shawn dropped his head dramatically against his chest, nearly dropping his payload as a result. Torn, he made his way across the porch as it wrapped around to the other side of this house and the waiting ladder.
At what point should he bring his dad in? He didn’t know. Nor did he know anything other than Jack was involved in something…or up to something…or something was up to Jack. But, without concrete evidence he had nothing other than a undecipherable phone conversation that would yield nothing but criticism from his father and a lecture on all the ways he’d gotten soft.
As he gripped the rung of the ladder, he swallowed down the hard feelings and the negative emotions of uncertainty and needless worry. He put on his game face and with painstaking effort, he pulled himself, rung by rung, up the ladder, one arm holding onto the creaky ladder for dear life and the other clutching his precious cargo.
He reached the top with no small amount of effort – the cumulative effects of ladder climbing already beginning to show their wear on shaky limbs and strained lungs. Shawn hooked the ladder with his elbow and with great care pulled the nail boxes from their resting place one by one and onto the rooftop.
With a self-satisfied smirk, Shawn returned his grip to the ladder and held on tight.
Henry pound the last nail head in place before firmly setting down the hammer. His fingers hooked around the brim of his ball cap as he took it off his head and wiped his brow with his forearm.
Shawn could feel the appraising squint as his dad vacillated his view between he and the boxes on the roofs edge. The silence of judgment began to get uncomfortable, prompting him to paste on a cheery smile and wave. And then hastily grip the ladder when it started to sway with his movement.
“Shawn,” Henry gripped the bridge of his nose.
Shawn jumped in hastily, “Don’t worry Poppa Bear, I’m good. Look, see? Holding on tight,” he added with a squeeze of his fingers causing his knuckles to turn white and the nail beds to purple.
“Shawn!” Henry barked, “how do you do it? I really want to know. Enlighten me.” He crossed his arms and set back, prompting Shawn for an answer.
Shawn considered the question for a moment. “Well,” he replied thoughtfully, “it all starts with a good breakfast, a weekly viewing of Cougar Town and a great head of hair. So if you want to do this,” he gestured at himself, “you’re going to be at a disadvantage.“
“I want to know, Shawn, how you manage to dress and feed yourself. I would also like to know how you managed to find your way to and from the truck –unsupervised-and how a simple instruction like ‘find roofing nails’ somehow turns into drill bits, masonry screws and a box of thumb tacks. So, please son, start talking.”
“It’s an honest mistake that could happen to anyone,” he shrugged.
“Uh huh,” his dad agreed in words though his tone stated unequivocally otherwise. “So this has nothing to do with Jack and what he’s doing here or why you’re so distracted wondering why he ran off into the woods again or why you haven’t even picked up on the fact that he circled around and came in the back door five minutes ago?”
“What? He’s back?” Shawn craned his neck backwards and as sideways as his position would allow, which wasn’t much. Satisfied that Jack was probably in the house if the voices just now as if on cue began to filter outside the house was any indication.
“I’m going to tell you this once and only once, kid, let it go. For your own sake just let Jack pick up his own pieces for once. If and when he needs help, he’ll say something. When that happens… you can decide if you’re on solid enough footing.”
Shawn glanced up sharply at the barb, expecting to see an expression of smugness – but he found none. He deflated slightly and took a sudden interest in some of the pine needles strewn about the rooftop. He picked one up and twirled it between his thumb and forefinger, concentrating on the motion instead of the growing lump in his throat.
Truly one of those rare moments where there were no words so he merely nodded in understanding.
Seconds later, his dad clapped him lightly on the shoulder, startling him – he clung tightly to the ladder and squeezed his eyes shut and with patience and great character, Shawn ignored the light chuckles. Should anyone say that it was because he was too terrified to do anything else, he would blatantly deny it with every last fiber of his being.
After he was firmly back on the ground, of course.
Light scuffling provided by his dad as he shuffled about on the roof, gathering and reorganizing tools and supplies gave Shawn just the background noise that he needed. He waited for the synchronized thrumming of his heart to slow down – felt evenly through tightly clenched fingers and a clamped jaw that sent hot blood rushing to his eardrums.
Shawn supposed he could be grateful for one thing – it did take his mind off of his hungered belly for a few minutes.
In full force, the snarling monster returned to wakefulness and it was taking no prisoners.
Gramps must have a fire in the hearth. Shawn mused as ash and smoke wafted from the chimney. Some of the lighter material flitted and darted as it settled back down like falling snow.
And the smell, he breathed it in. His clothes would smell like chimney smoke for days after they returned. He looked forward to that. It was a way of holding on to an experience, carrying it with you. Pleasant, earthy and light. Nothing like the soul-seeping dampness that he felt that he carried around everywhere since saying goodbye to Abigail on that pier.
A hand touched his shoulder again, lighter this time, and he looked up to meet his father’s questioning glance.
“I said, are you ready?”
“Yeah,” he cleared his throat before replying again with hopefully more confidence. “Yeah.”
“I think dad has lunch ready,” Henry gestured to Shawn to start his descent. “Let’s go get some before dad and Gus start without us.”
“For once I won’t ignore you by pretending that I didn’t hear that,” Shawn shouted up from the bottom of the ladder, holding it in place while his dad finished the climb down.
It was the bouncing knee that he noticed immediately upon entering.
Within seconds, even in the familiar environment, he had already cataloged the interior of the little house. Pots and pans that used to hang on the pot rack now simmered on the stove. The salt shaker was moved two feet to the right. The white towel typically draped from the handle of the oven door was now wrapped around the fireplace poker that Gramps was using to stoke the fire.
Various other little items had either been moved or put away since Shawn had been inside just a few hours ago. But none of those really jumped out at him any more than they normally would.
Even the sight of Gus weeping openly as he stood over the chopping block with a twelve inch chef’s knife in one hand, sniffling as he wiped his face on his sleeve didn’t necessarily strike him as unusual. Onions or not, Gus was a crier, after all.
But the bouncing knee…
Jack still sat on the edge of the cot in the corner as he stared off into empty space. Shawn didn’t think that his uncle even noticed their entrance. He merely sat in a classic thinking pose with a knee nervously bouncing so hard, Shawn feared that he might be forced to repair broken floorboards before finally being allowed to eat.
Shawn squinted, appraising Jack further. He still had his cell phone clasped in sweaty palms. He wasn’t sure how Jack had managed to keep it away from his dad that long. As long as he kept that tight grip on it, he should be okay. That is, if he didn’t break it. Even while maintaining a constant grip on the phone, Shawn could see Jack squeezing his fists rapidly, keeping rhythm with his bouncing leg.
The front door closed behind him and he heard his dad walk up and then pass him by as he walked over to the pot of chili now simmering on the stovetop.
He gave it a few stirs and then dipped a spoon into the pot for tasting.
“Needs more onions. Gus.”
“I’m trying,” Gus sniffled through hitching breaths and winced as Henry clapped him on the back as he passed by with a smile.
“Do you need to talk about it?” Shawn asked with as much compassion as he could muster.
“Shut up, Shawn.”
“Whatever,” he threw out distractedly as he tried his best not to concentrate too hard on his uncle. “I was just trying to help.”
“Shawn!“ Henry snipped as he peered out the side window through the gap in the curtains.
“What, I was just telling Gus that-“ he broke off his own sentence as he watched his dad shove away from the window. “What’s up, pops?”
The inhabitants of the cabin stilled and hushed as the air became electric with the static of tension. The room was now quite save for the soft bubbling pot the hissing crackles of the fire and Gus’ sniffles.
Suddenly the memory of the bouncing knee that had merely piqued his curiosity before now turned to lead and sank into the depths of his gut.
Henry turned to face his brother, his interrogation expression set deep into his face as he crossed his arms.
“Expecting company, Jack?”
Wheeeee! Now I get to sleep! Yay:)
Quick, Kids, Throw the Dirty Dishes in the Oven and the Laundry in the Bathtub, 'Cause We Got Company! by SydneyWoo
Hello, everyone, My name is SydneyWoo and I suck at life.
If anyone is still out there, please forgive me for the delay. You will all be glad to know that I am actively trying to win the lottery so that I can spend my days in leisure and try and remember what 'fun' is.
As always, all my thanks and gratitude and eternal appreciation goes out to dragonnan.
This one's for her:)
“Expecting company, Jack?”
Jack seemed to wither beneath the attention yet said nothing—he merely turned towards the furthest corner and massaged his neck with one hand while propping the other on his hip.
Keeping one eye on his brother, Henry resumed peering out the window. His eyes darted back and forth, keeping tabs on the happenings outside as well as on Jack. Shawn could only catch snippets of the view outside past his dad’s head. Whatever it was that his dad was tracking, it was getting closer. The approach proportional to the deeper breaths and stiffly held shoulders in front of him.
The tension in the little house crackled and hummed causing Shawn’s head to buzz, throwing off his sense of orientation.
"I'm going to get my gun," Henry said as he pushed off the counter. The homey red-checked curtains that he had been holding back continued to ripple. Through the swaying gap, Shawn saw the figures approaching on the path that emerged from the deep woods. He’d had only the barest glance but it was enough.
There were three of them: tall, grande, and venti.
This would normally be where Shawn would goad his dad, accusing him of overreacting and being antisocial. In a rare moment of self-control, he bit back the retorts and made a mental note to use them later. Gathering from the looks of the approaching visitors, Shawn had to agree with his dad on this one. It was enough to make a guy lose his appetite. Fact was, he wouldn't mind having a gun either.
Or his iPod and snack bag, he nodded to himself, but that was neither here nor there.
"Henry," Jack pleaded in a tone that almost suggested that his brother was overreacting. Or was it? Not used to second-guessing his uncle’s motives, Shawn could almost believe that the pleading sounded more in the lines of please don’t do this—you have no idea who you’re messing with.
"Shut up, Jack" Henry hissed over his shoulder. Shawn found it disconcerting, watching his dad’s searchings become more frantic. "Where is it?" Henry was now barely restrained just under a bellow. The tone caused Shawn to hold in his breath and his gut to tighten.
"Dad?" He questioned. He looked to Gus to see the similar look of confusion. Gramps looked... well, it was hard to tell just what the normally easy to read Gramps looked like. Jack, however, appear to know exactly was going on. That fact alone makes Shawn realize they were all very, very, screwed.
The gun had yet to turn up. The fireplace tools were on the other side of the cabin and not immediately accessible. Options for weapons were limited to what they had on hand, which wasn't much. Aside from the utensil drawer which contained such dastardly medieval items like a vegetable peeler, corkscrew and bottle opener, they had one chef knife which Gus held in one hand while he wiped tears with the other. If this came to worst-case scenario, he could use the onion in self defense.
“Dude, will you man up?” Shawn cajoled. If they were going to die, they were at least going to go out like men. And if they couldn’t go out like men, they could at least go out like pre-pubescent teenaged boys.
“You man up!” Gus hissed through the tears streaming down his face. Shawn bit back a look of surprise and felt a stir of admiration for his friend. Despite the girl-crying, there was fire in Gus’ voice. Added to the swollen red eyes and Gus may very well hold his own and scare off the bad men. All the more reason for Shawn to feel the urge to arm himself.
“Seriously, give me the knife,” he gestured with waggling fingers, giving the international sign of gimme.
“Get your own knife. This one’s mine and it’s not leaving my hands Shawn!” Gus gestured wildly, stabbing the blade in the air.
“Will you look at yourself? You’re weeping like a little girl. What kind of first impression do you want to make for the bad guys getting ready to break down the door? Did you even think about that? Clean off your face, man. Sneer or snarl or something.” Shawn clucked his tongue in reproach.
Gus pouted a bit. Nevertheless, he gripped the hilt of the knife tighter and wiped the tear tracks with the crook of his arm. Never one to make a bad impression, he upped his game to the next level by tucking his shirt tail tighter and straightening his collar.
“That’s more like it, my fine friend. You are stylin! Your corpse is gonna look hot!”
“Will you two shut up!”
And then, they were out of time. Heavy footsteps resounded on the porch outside. How many there were, it was hard to tell. More than one, but less than twenty, he supposed.
The doorknob turned slowly, hitching counter-clockwise in time with Shawn’s breath.
Uncertainty gripped him when he couldn’t quite pinpoint what this was. Was this a slasher film? They were in a cabin out in the deep woods. Shawn quickly looked around and deduced that although the setting was right, the complete lack of beautiful buxom beauties eliminated that possibility.
With a deep sigh of relief, Shawn looked to his right and gave Gus a big smile. “Don’t worry, buddy – everything is going to be alright,” he said. And he believed it. He really did. If he had more time, he would love to tell Gus in exacting detail how even though the bad men were about to come in the front door that it was all going to work out. This was nothing like Camp Tikiwawahahma…or something. Good thing it was just a bunch of handsome young men and washed up old men. Otherwise, if there were any beautiful young women, they’d be in big trouble.
But they weren’t in trouble. This was nothing like “Cabin by the Lake”.
His smile quickly fell when the front door was flung open in time with the back door.
This changes things, Shawn thought as he furiously searched his mind for a comparative analogy for this situation. Coming up with none, he quickly forced his mind to focus on what was currently happening – though it all happened so fast, he could only pay attention with difficulty.
His dad circled around the kitchen area and stood in the middle of the room with hands upraised. He was clearly uncomfortable with being unable to find a weapon; Shawn noted of his father’s twitchy fingertips. Given their outnumbered and out-armed status, one little gun wouldn’t have helped them anyway.
“We don’t want any trouble here. I don’t know what it is you’re looking for but my family and I have nothing of value,” Henry said in a monotone voice as he slowly turned around, taking in each of the cabin’s intruders, no doubt assessing each of them.
“We weren’t allowed to bring anything of value,” Shawn clarified. “Or fun. Or snacks, for that matter. Bottom line is this, guys, if you’re looking for a party, this is not the place for you. Or me and Gus,” Shawn added helpfully.
The tallest of the men cocked his head thoughtfully in consideration. Shawn wondered for a moment if they wouldn’t just turn around and leave. Instead, Ventiman ventured further into the cabin. His compatriots stepped out of the way, reinforcing Shawn’s assumption that this was the leader.
He had yet to say anything. He merely sauntered around, picking up random objects here and there. His bearing was almost one of boredom, like he had all the time in the world and was trying to determine if this lowly cabin was worth his time. For a moment, Shawn expected him to pull out white gloves and check for dust.
Ventiman slowly sauntered over to Jack and threw his arm carelessly over Jack’s shoulder.
“Relax boys, we’re just here to pay a visit to our friend Jack. Ain’t that right, Jack?”
“Y-yeah,” Jack agreed, his voice shaking. “How you boys doing”
Shawn couldn’t help but take in Jack’s distinctly green complexion. While their new visitors had yet to make a move that could be interpreted as ‘threatening’—at least in the legal sense—something about them set off every internal alarm in Shawn’s perfectly coiffed head.
“There, see? Jack, here, knows us. In fact, we’re such good friends of Jack that Good ‘Ole Jack offered to help our dear mother with a favor. Hell, we’re practically family—ain’t we, boys?”
Shawn’s internal alarm turned into a blaring klaxon as the others laughed in boisterous agreement. He swallowed nervously and filtered in a deep and slow breath, desperately willing himself to look outwardly calm.
For a second, he caught his father’s eye. In that instant, Henry’s eye twitched. Shawn thought that it could have been a signal. However, a signal for what? That was one thing that was missing from Shawn’s training. Wilderness survival, bullet dodging, starting a fire without matches, these were just a handful of skills that littered his varied resume.
Hand signals and eye twitches—oddly enough—had never made the list. Sure would have come in handy right about now. Was it even a purposeful twitch or was it a delayed response to Gus’ Iron Chef skills? Could be, since Gus was still streaming onion flavored tears, though it was usually Henry that made the onions cry rather than the other way around.
Perhaps a test? Shawn pursed his lips slightly and tried to waggle his nose and ever so subtly cocked an eyebrow.
It worked! His dad’s other eye twitched.
Now he was no further than when he started. Except that his dad now looked peeved. If his dad wanted something, he’d just have to figure out a better way to communicate—Shawn was taking himself out of it. Besides, he was starving and couldn’t be expected to perform at a high level without at the very least a Hostess cupcake, which was so cruelly abandoned back at his dad’s house.
It was enough to make a guy cry—though Gus had that one covered.
“How is your…mother? Is it?” Jack asked nervously.
“That’s right, our dear saintly mother, God bless her,” Venti took off his hat with an exaggerated air of reverence and covered his heart. Shawn noted the stark difference in the pigment of his face compared with the lightness of his forehead. This was a man who wore his hat 24/7 and spent a great deal of time outside, evidenced by the striking tan line.
A ring of plastered hair encircled the man’s head. Hat hair, Shawn frowned with disdain. There was no excuse to ever let it get that far. That crop of hair had all the potential to make it in the world and instead, it was being smothered under cheap pomade and a tattered straw hat. He didn’t need to look any further than to know that this was a very bad man.
A very, very bad man.
To his right, he heard Gramps clear his throat. Gramps stood up slowly, straightening himself bit by bit and took a few shuffling steps away from his place on the couch and towards the group. Shawn held his breath and he could likewise feel Henry tense. Gramps stopped immediately when the intruders started to bunch together defensively.
“Jack,” he asked. “Would you like to introduce us to your friends? I’m sure that we have enough food for everyone if they’re hungry.” Gramps narrowed his eyes appraisingly. “Wouldn’t want to be rude.”
Venti dude quickly removed his hat from his chest and placed it back on his head, smoothing the wayward tufts back under the hatband. Hiding them away from the sunshine, Shawn thought with a broken heart. He then clapped Jack on the back with a giant hand, causing Jack to wince, and jump slightly.
“I am sorry, sir; where are my manners?” The large man wiped his hands on mud splattered pant legs, and straightened his posture. His entire demeanor shifted from bad, bad, man with greasy hair to respectful and spit-shined schoolboy. Shawn snuffed at the act. He owned that act. He’d made a career, literally, of applying shmoozola in heaps. Venti man approached gramps with an extended hand.
“Allow me to introduce myself, sir. My name is Gabe; I’ve got a piece just further down the valley. This gent over here,” he gestured, “-is Mick. And that ugly son of a buck right over there is my brother Dan.”
If the so very obvious I’m a gentlemanly fellow act wasn’t hard enough to swallow, Shawn nearly choked on his tongue at that so obvious lie. ‘Brother’ Dan bore no family resemblance to Gabe whatsoever. Short, pig-nosed, and plump with a fine build somewhere buried under three chins and a beer belly—Dan was to Gabe what a corpulent Pug was to a Great Dane.
Gramps grunted as he returned a firm handshake. Gabe turned then and reached his hand towards Henry who merely raised a disbelieving eyebrow and crossed his arms tightly.
Gabe appeared nonplussed by the snub as he crossed back over to Jack in two strides.
“So, Jack, since it looks like you got company, the boys and I will let you visit and check back later about that favor for our dear mother,” Gabe once again removed his hat reverently and bowed his head in exaggerated sincerity. Replacing the hat, he turned towards Jack, leaned in towards his ear, and whispered something that made Jack’s eyes widen in shock. It struck Shawn like a jolt, the realization that even though he was concerned for his uncle, he wasn’t about to intervene this time. He pushed down the warring emotions of guilt and fear and tried to adopt a wait and see attitude.
“Boys,” Gabe commanded as he turned on his heel with his minions joining ranks in his path. “You all have a nice visit,” he tipped his hat at the group and gripped the door handle before giving it a turn and stepping out towards the porch. Just before he closed the door behind him, he turned towards Jack with narrowed eyes and then shut the door.
Shawn held his breath as the entourage was heard on the porch, loud footsteps seeming so much louder compared to the abject silence of the cabin. His eyes shifted rapidly between his family and the window. Minutes passed after the last footstep was heard. In the distance, he heard the hard start of an engine—most likely a large truck—and then the sound lessened as the vehicle drove into the distance.
A collective breath was released along with the pent up tension of the moment. Slowly, movement began to return to the cabin’s occupants. Gramps shuffled to the corner. Jack sank into the couch with his head buried in his hands. Even still, no one said a word. Almost as if saying anything might bring them back. His dad? Well, Shawn mentally corrected, almost everyone had returned to movement. His dad remained stock still; arms crossed, jaw set firmly, and a stone-faced expression with eyes glued to the floorboards. Shawn clenched his jaw even though it ached with the action.
“Who’s hungry? Is anyone else hungry?” Gus called out cheerily. A little too cheerily, Shawn thought with a bemused expression. His amusement only grew as Gus returned to his beloved chopping board and recommenced hacking away with a vengeance causing the water works to resume in earnest.
“Jack,” said Henry with a tone that Shawn had only rarely heard. The weight of his voice made Shawn’s stomach sink with dread. Henry raised his head slowly from his study of the floor to drill into Jack with fiery intensity that Shawn hadn’t really witnessed since the summer of 1995. “What in the hell have you gotten yourself into?”
Can't get enough of that wonderful scoundrel, Uncle Jack? Me neither! If you haven't already done so, might I suggest that you check out JR88fan's delightful stories here http://www.psychfic.com/viewstory.php?sid=1345 and here...http://www.psychfic.com/viewstory.php?sid=2138.
Screw-Ups, Stare-Downs, Do-Overs, and Just Needing To Get Away From It All by SydneyWoo
More thanks than I can begin to express for dragonnan's help. Without it, this story would go nowhere. She provided so much good feedback for this that I ended up stealing most of it without any shame whatsoever. I luffs her epic face.
Shawn felt his eye’s draw into a squint. He could even imagine that handsomely chiseled crow’s feet pulled at the corners of his eyelids; not the old guy kind, but the Brad Pitt cover of Time magazine kind.
What he really wanted was a cigarillo. The corner of his mouth twitched at the absence of a teeny cigar. Likewise, his fingertips drifted towards his thigh, subconsciously moving towards the non-existent holster.
The whistle of deep breathing could be heard throughout the cabin—each of the little house’s occupants staring down the man standing dead center. He cringed under the scrutiny and brought up his hands behind his neck in a display of tense aggravation…but he had yet to say a word.
It was an old-fashioned showdown worthy of A Fistful of Dollars, a pot of spaghetti, and a tavern madam.
Except of course, thanks to Henry, he had no money, no food in his stomach—and worst of all—no shameless saloon mistress in sight.
The brief moment of movie fantasy dissolved from his brain when the cold, harsh, facts of reality once again bled in. They were here for free labor (his dad’s favored mode of therapy) and his one true chance of love had been viciously stolen away. Add on that, Uncle Jack and whatever sordid mystery had brought him here, and this whole getaway had turned into one massive suck-fest.
Just like that, the showdown wasn’t cool anymore. This was real and this was his family engaging on conflict. Again.
Shawn’s stomach clenched and roiled as his eyes darted back and forth between his dad and uncle as they played their epic game of chicken. He had just decided that extreme circumstances called for extreme measures and was just about ready to bust out his latest and greatest invented performance yet: Menudo Sings The Backstreet Boys: A Christmas Album when his dad bellowed, causing the rafters to vibrate.
“What do you want me to say?”
“Anything! Just say something,” Gramps added, exasperated. “Geez, I can’t take it when you two get too quiet.”
Henry uncrossed his arms and opened his mouth—by all appearance fully prepared to take on his father’s instructions—before being quickly cut off by Gramps. Shawn raised an eyebrow in surprise, glancing at Gus who could only mouth the word ‘daaaaang’.
“On second thought boys, I have a better idea. We’re not going to discuss any of this until after lunch,” Gramps decreed. From the expression on his face and the stance of his posture Shawn had no doubt that the old man fully expected to be obeyed on this one.
He was no idiot; Shawn knew a winning team when he saw one. That settled it—this was a time to take sides. “I agree!” he interjected, raising his fist high in the air.
“Me too,” Gus piped in. A stealthy fistbump sealed the deal.
Grampa Spencer just grunted happily, appearing quite proud of himself for winning the majority vote.
“I’ll keep working on this meal while you boys finish the work on the roof. I think the activity will do everyone some good. We’ll eat some lunch. Then, and only then, will we sit down and have a calm,“ Gramps took a moment to make pointed eye contact with Henry, “discussion. Like adults. Isn’t that right, Henry?”
Shawn’s eyes sparkled in pure delight at his father’s dressing down. This was everything that he could ever have imagined. Now the ball was in his dad’s court, and like the tennis match that this whole fiasco had turned into, he returned his focus to the other side of the room and waited for the serve to be returned.
“Hmmpf,” Henry grunted.
Point Gramps. The score: 15-love.
Shawn’s momentary elation fell flat on two realizations. One, he had to go back up on the roof. And two, Jack was still suspiciously quiet, twitchy, and (as Shawn’s eyes focused more closely) really, really, sweaty.
The match between his dad and Gramps might not yet be over but one thing was clear; Jack was going to have to play against the winner very soon. And maybe, just maybe, Shawn thought with just a smidge of surprise, it might be a very good thing for Henry to come out on top of this one after all.
For the twentieth time in as many minutes, the hammer slipped awkwardly and made contact with the nail. The nail attached to Shawn’s thumb. The abused digit throbbed and in revenge sent vicious ebbs of pain shooting up the nerve endings all along his arm. He’d been admonished not to throw too much of a fit the first nineteen times that he’d abused himself. It made sense, really. Rooftops and flailing don’t mix. Besides, if he was going to convince his dad that he didn’t need to be treated with kid gloves it was time to man up and take his pain in dignity.
“Why doesn’t Gus have to be up here again?” He whined and tossed the hammer to the side.
“This is good for clearing your head.”
“Uh, I’d like to point out that not two hours ago you accused me of not having anything in my head.” He rocked back against the pitch of the roof to sit down, cross-legged.
“Okay,” Henry acknowledged, “it’s good for clearing my head. Plus,” Henry paused while giving a particularly stubborn nail a few more whacks for good measure, “Gus didn’t come suitably attired for roof work.”
“Well that’s just not right.”
“What can I say, kid? Luck favors the sharply dressed.” Henry laid down the hammer once more and crossed the span of the roof for another bundle of shingles. “Anyway, don’t go thinking that Gus is getting off easy. I have a feeling that dad is keeping him busy.”
“Yeah, well…good,” Shawn stated with an assurance that he really didn’t feel. He sat there for a few more minutes as the hotness of his thumb subsided. Uncrossing his legs, he brought his knees up and rested his forearms on top. “What about Jack?” he approached cautiously.
And suddenly, the hammering stopped.
Henry glanced up for a moment before laying the hammer down. He surprised Shawn by likewise sitting down and leaning back, bracing himself with his arms behind him.
“I know what I think. What do you think, Shawn?”
“Nope, I asked first.” Shawn pursed his lips tightly and shook his head. No way would he touch that one.
“I don’t care. I am asking, point blank, for your opinion. You know what my opinion is; it’s the same it’s always been where Jack is concerned. Now for once, Shawn don’t sugar coat it and don’t put on your special huggy-feely glasses,” Henry gestured. Shawn snorted in amusement while he continued, “tell me exactly where you stand having Jack here?”
Shawn bristled at the line of questioning. His dad’s tone usually set him on edge on a good day. This, not being a good day, was about more than he could take.
“So what? I have to choose between you and him?”
Henry raised his hands quickly in appeasement. “I’m not asking that, kid. I’m asking are you okay with him here, that’s all.”
He didn’t answer right away; he couldn’t. Fact of the matter was, Shawn didn’t even know for himself his feelings toward his uncle. He was only barely starting to get a grip on his feelings on getting Abigail back, only to lose her again. And before that, he had just barely begun to get a handle on his feelings after nearly losing his mom and the swarm of attention that resulted from that.
“I think…” Shawn paused for a moment as he mulled the sudden thought that sprung to the forefront of his brain in a rare moment of think before you talk. “I think that it doesn’t matter one way or the other,” he sighed despondently.
He fiddled with the edge of a shingle, running his fingertips over the roughened asphalt surface. It’s pebbled texture gritty under his hands, nearly like the grit that he felt underneath his eyelids every night when he tried to sleep. Shawn ground the heel of his palms into his eyes smoothing away the pressure that he hadn’t even realized had built up. When he removed them seconds—maybe minutes—later he didn’t acknowledge his dad staring at him from the side.
“I’m fine,” Shawn said flatly.
“Okay kid, you’re fine,” Henry broke his gaze. Shawn took in a deep breath of release, surprising himself once again that he didn’t even realize he had been holding it in. “Just promise me; if having Jack here is too much, say the word. I’m serious, Shawn. I don’t want to be the bad guy making drama but I will if I have to. Got it?”
“Yeah, I got it,” he snuffed.
His dad just shook his head, probably knowing that it was just another promise in a string of many that he made without any intention of keeping.
Maybe on this one, Shawn thought, he just might follow through.
Jack was here for something. Those men were after Jack for something. Shawn just wasn’t too sure that he wanted to get between Jack, and the men, and the something they were all after. Especially now that he knew with certainty where he ranked on Jack’s scale of all things important: higher than bad men who wanted to do him harm, but just under whatever the bad men wanted.
The sounds of pounded nails reverberated off of the rooftop, pulling Shawn away from his ego-deflating self-revelations. Using his jeans, he brushed the grit of loosened shingle dust off and rolled to his knees before standing up. He surveyed his surroundings and put his mind to rest that they weren’t surrounded and that he was just getting himself worked up over nothing. Or mostly nothing. Barely anything, really. Absolutely no reason that would keep him from picking up a hammer and finish the work of trying to smash off the rest of his fingers.
He crossed back over to his section and grabbed a nail. It shouldn’t be too bad. Good working light was brief in this section of the valley. It wouldn’t be long before the long shadows made roof work too difficult and Henry would be forced to give up working for the day. True, it meant getting closer to nighttime and the dark dreams that followed. However, as Shawn brought the hammer up to gingerly set the nail in place, his stomach growled viciously.
Later that night he would be sure to blame extreme, disorienting, hunger as the reason for his howled scream of pain that echoed through the redwoods as, once more, the head of the hammer followed its path straight towards the nail of Shawn’s index finger.
The glass of ice water was heaven.
Blissful waves of goodness cooled and soothed, replenishing sapped strength and restoring the soul.
“Get your finger out of there. I’m not getting you another glass.”
“I don’t care. I’ll drink the whole thing later, but my finger is staying In-This-Glass until I say it’s coming out,” he exclaimed, punctuating his words by splashing deeper in the water glass.
“That’s just nasty.”
“I disagree, Gus,” said Shawn, pasting an expression of zen-like glee. “This is wonderful. You should try it. You all should try it. It’s the good feelings that come with hard, manual, labor. I’m telling you Gus, tomorrow you should take my place up there. It’ll change your life.”
“Uh, no Shawn, I think you should try it. From what I heard there was more screaming than actual work being done on your side.”
Shawn gasped in betrayed surprise. Gus beamed smugly as he passed salt and pepper on the other side of the table with a look on his face that plainly said oh yeah, I went there.
Shawn opened his mouth to reply, but was quickly interrupted with a large object that passed over his field of vision—so close to his face that he couldn’t even focus on it.
“Shawn, get your finger out of your glass and pass this over,” Henry once more shoved the bowl of biscuits under Shawn’s nose repeatedly. He huffed as he pulled his finger from the glass and shook off the lovely little droplets. As immediate as his finger need was, the aroma of the freshly baked fireplace biscuits was worth neglecting his finger for the moment. After all, his stomach had been more severely abused on this trip.
Taking out a biscuit—and then another—for himself, he passed the remainder to Gramps who grunted and helped himself.
The atmosphere of the cabin shifted sharply as the front door opened and Jack slinked in and made his way to the table, avoiding eye contact with everyone. Not saying a word, he began the task of filling his plate with the items within easy reach.
“So there he is, now that the day’s work is done. Care to share what you’ve been up to?” Henry leaned back in his chair and crossed his arms, staunchly waiting for an answer.
Shawn glanced up from where he had just picked up the salt shaker and shared an uncomfortable look with Gus.
“Now boys, we’re not going to have any trouble,” Gramps admonished. “We’re going to have a nice and civil dinner.”
“That is a grand idea,” Jack said distractedly as he continued to survey the tabletop while simultaneously stuffing the corner of his napkin in his shirt collar.
“I agree,” Shawn exclaimed and resumed salting his plate with gusto.
“Excellent idea, Mr. Spencer,” said Gus, giving Gramps a big nod before likewise sharing a nod with Shawn.
“Oh no, no,” Henry chimed in. “We’ll have a nice and civil dinner after we’ve discussed a few things first.”
“Do we have to do this right now, Henry? Really?” Jack asked, peeved.
“When would you rather do it? When your friends come back?”
“They’re not my friends.”
“Then who are they?”
“I’m not going to do this with you,” Jack sing-songed with a cheesy smile forced so tightly across his face that it made Shawn’s jaw ache.
“Fine,” Henry conceded for the moment before changing tactics. “Where’s my gun?”
“Oh come on!” Jack exclaimed, looking Henry square in the eye for the first time. “You can’t be serious?”
“I couldn’t be more serious.”
“I don’t know where your gun is, Henry.”
“You know what? Whatever,” Jack shrugged. “You’re not going to believe anything that I say, regardless.”
Henry resumed the interrogation, undaunted. Shawn swallowed hard. Now that his dad was in the zone, there was no stopping him. “It was here before your friends showed up. Now it’s gone.”
“I had nothing to do with it,” Jack said, staring Henry down. Shawn wasn’t sure that he didn’t believe him. That was the problem, though. The problem he’d always had with Jack.
“I don’t believe you. We need that gun, Jack.” It was as close to pleading and asking nicely that his dad could ever hope to get.
“You know what Henry? I’ve got bigger problems than your gun-“ Jack blurted.
Astonished, Shawn could only stare at Jack’s reaction at the revelation he hadn’t intended on making. Shawn’s eyes widened. Gus’ eyes widened. Henry, though. Well, Henry just narrowed his focus and pressed in harder.
“What are you into your partners for?”
“They’re…not my partners,” Jack said quietly between grinding teeth. “And I can’t get into this with you right now.”
Shawn’s appetite was nearly shot. Though his stomach howled in protest, his mind churned, overriding the feelings of hunger and nurturing a sense of nausea in its place. The buzzing sensation was back in full force, thrumming in his head, and muting the sounds of the increasingly heated conversation.
He brushed off Gus’ concerned expression with a half-hearted wave. His dad and uncle continued to shout and argue. Shawn could no longer make out the words as he edged back in his chair and stood, but the redness of their faces and flailing arm gestures punctuating their words told him all he needed to know.
He needed air and he needed it now.
Scrubbing a hand down his face, he walked away from the table and through the door, closing it gently behind him. Shawn stuffed his hands in his pockets and quietly walked across the length of the porch and down the steps. He wouldn’t go too far. After all, light was fading fast and this was the time of night when raccoons took over the planet. It took about thirty steps away from the cabin before Shawn truly felt free to breathe. Lungful after lungful, he couldn’t take it in fast enough.
As he took in each breath to the fullest, he felt his head clear ever so slightly. He could still hear the echo of arguing voices, noting that it seemed that Gramps had joined in the fray. However, in the vast expanse of the big sky, the sound of conflict lessened and was increasingly overtaken by crickets and the squawking of birds flying in to roost in the big trees overhead.
Sparing a moment to glance backwards towards the cabin, he could see the backlit form of Gus. Shawn’s lips quirked in a semi-amused smile and he once again waved his friend off. Gus stood there for a moment or two before slowly turning away from the window and giving Shawn his much needed privacy.
By the time he had made three or four rounds around the outskirts of the perimeter, he had found himself much more calm and relaxed. The claustrophobia of the tense quarters had abated. Though now he was left with a different kind of problem; when to go back in? He supposed he’d have a bit longer to sort it all out before anyone came after him. And he intended to take advantage of every minute he had remaining and made his way towards the truck his dad had borrowed for this blasted trip.
He ran a hand down the rim of the bed. The metal had chilled with the night air and it felt amazing underneath his fingers. He continued to run his hand along the edge until he made his way around the back of the truck. Turning his back on the truck—and with it, the cabin—he sat on the edge of the bumper, placing his hands on either side of him in order to brace himself on the narrow ledge. Wiggling slightly and flexing his fingers, he settled into place, breathing deeply through his nose. The scents of the forest changed at night. Funny. He’d never noticed that before.
He took another deep breath and marveled that with the approaching moist air of evening, each breath carried subtly different smells to his senses. Focusing his concentration, he could almost track the direction of each component. He closed his eyes and blocked out everything else, the already fading angry voices faded even further, the squawking birds chattered quieter until vanishing completely.
When the large hand clapped him on the shoulder, jolting him harshly back to the present, Shawn startled hard enough to slip from the bumper of the truck. The hand never left him. Instead, it gripped harder, pinching painfully. Unable to get his bearings, unable to hear anything above the hammering of his own pulse that threatened to blow out his ear drums, unable to make out faces or forms, Shawn was at a disadvantage with no way to get his bearings. A large shadow stepped in front of him and stopped down to grip the jacket of his collar and hoist him roughly to his feet.
Shawn swallowed hard. He couldn’t dislodge the lump in his throat that could only be his heart, but he did manage to clear his ears. He immediately regretted it when the shadow yanked him away from the truck and sideways—the gorilla-like hands never let up on their grip—he was now pulled over a little further away from the truck and the low lying branches. Moonlit beams now filtered just over the hills and through the tree limbs. The shadow faded away and Shawn could clearly make out the features that identified the owner of the gorilla-like hands. Ventiman!
He pulled his lips back in a feral smile. Shawn couldn’t stop the shiver that clenched his lower back, knotting it painfully. This. This was the true picture of the men who visited them earlier.
“What do you say we all go in and pay a visit to good ole’ Jack?”
His voice was in reality probably no more than a gravelly hiss, but to Shawn’s ears the words echoed loudly. A part of him wondered sadly why on earth the occupants of the cabin couldn’t hear it.
The Family That Plays Together Pretty Much Just Makes Themselves a Bigger Target by SydneyWoo
Again with the thanking of dragonnan. I can't help myself. She's just so...thankable! Thank you to all who have supported this story with a click or two. The last month has been especially heinous. I would love to plant kisses on each one of your foreheads.
But here's the funny thing about bosses who go crazy...they can be turned into fic characters really easy. And that, my friends, is how the world stays in balance. But that is going to be another story altogether. Now, back to this one!
“What do you say we all go in and pay a visit to good ole’ Jack?”
“Yeah, you know I’ve had enough visiting for the night I was actually gonna get some slee-” Shawn broke off as he was suddenly jerked forward by the collar which was followed up by a hard shove forward. Right then. “Yeah, okay then let’s go for a visit.”
He tried to slow his pace and shuffle along the path, using the delay to search for a distraction. A warning. Anything to alert his family inside the cabin. Guess he’d have to resort to yelling. Old fashioned, but effective.
Shawn no sooner than opened his mouth to sound the alarm when another hard shove pitched him forward and to his knees, knocking the breath out of his lungs and with it any chance of shouting a warning.
“More walking,” Gabe grunted as he reached down to yank Shawn up by the hair on the back of his head. “Less thinking of yelling.”
Shawn could no more think of talking, or walking, or even breathing as he was pulled up viciously by his poor abused hair. He was given no choice but to move forward at increased speed as Gabe picked up the pace behind him, pushing him faster and faster. The large hand never loosened its grip on his hair; if anything, it only got tighter and tighter, tipping his head further back.
The terrain beneath his feet, which he couldn’t see due to his really uncomfortable position, was rocky and uneven. Each step difficult to navigate, making keeping his balance hard. To compensate, he reached behind him to grab hold of the gorilla-sized wrists. He could either concentrate on putting one foot in front of the other in order to keep himself upright at the cadence that was set or he could be forcibly dragged.
Shawn normally considered himself an expert on that whole walking thing, having skipped crawling altogether. The fact that it was now such a struggle spoke less of his own abilities as an advanced, upright, prodigy of considerably awesome (but shamefully abused) hair and more of the kinds of men he was dealing with.
They were jerks. Jerky jerkfaces of epic suck.
All too soon they were at the steps of the porch. All moisture evaporated from Shawn’s mouth and his stomach flipped with dread. Frantically, he searched around his limited field of vision for anything that he could do to warn his family. Shifting his line of sight as far as he could to the point of straining and double vision, he could just barely make out the lawn tools propped haphazardly against the side of the cabin; If he could just barely brush the edge and tip them over…
He blinked to clear his focus and very carefully stretched out his left arm. Before he could extend his fingertips a heavily muscled arm circled around his throat and pulled him backwards. The pressure against his throat was crushing. Movement, which was already limited before, was now made impossible as he was unwillingly held against Gabe. His feeble attempts to struggle seemed to have no effect on the other man.
Shawn was horrified as he suddenly realized the strategy behind this move. The other two men which were previously flanking Gabe from behind now moved to the front and up the porch. They stepped lightly so as not to make any noise and attract the attention of his dad and the others.
He couldn’t take in enough oxygen to fill his lungs never mind to keep the circling black dots that now littered his field of vision. He couldn’t scream. He couldn’t yell. He could only watched as Mick and Dan yanked open the door and rushed in.
“Shawn!” Henry’s voice could be heard from the porch and (in all likelihood) across the valley. The panic in his dad’s voice made his heart clench painfully, increasing his guilt ten-fold. He should have tried harder to warn them.
Following closely on their coattails, Gabe tightened the pressure on Shawn’s throat and lifted mere millimeters off the floor—enough where Shawn could offer no useful resistance as Gabe advanced quickly before stopping just inside the doorway.
Shawn struggled with breathlessness and barely contained panic for his family. Even through the disorientation of seeing them held at gunpoint, he couldn’t stop himself from taking it all in. In that micro-moment, he scanned the interior of the cabin clues of the crime scene; the plate with the face made of food; the trampled fork; the toppled chair and the table that had moved itself several inches closer to the opposite wall. Without his consent or control, his mind automatically filled in what had happened just prior to the moment when Dan and Mick had burst through the front door.
Gus would have had his head down and fully absorbed in his plate. Shawn admired the artfully drawn face, especially the mustache. Food mustaches were hard to get right. Shawn decided to name him Mr. Happy Spuds. If they all made it out of this, Shawn would have Mr. Happy Spuds bronzed for Gus. Gus looked like he could use it, Shawn decided as he nodded in Gus’ general direction where he was crouched behind the dining room chair. Gus returned the nod from behind the rungs. It was all cool.
Gramps appeared to be in the same spot after the bad guys burst in. And it made sense since Gramps wouldn’t have been able to scoot backwards with the same smooth flair as Gus. Besides, Gramps was trained and—though not as by-the-book as his son—fell back on that tried and true training just as if he’d never been away. Stay calm. Assess the situation.
Jack stood behind the table. To his right and several feet away was his fork still glopped with stew? Shawn could easily picture Jack sitting across the table from his brother protesting his innocence. Again. But louder and with more detail, jabbing his fork in the air to punctuate each syllable until the moment when the front door crashed in and the fork was tossed away as Jack futilely sought a place to hide.
Shawn saw his dad’s overturned chair laying a good four feet away from the table had no problem seeing this one play out in his mind. His dad (in one move) pushed backwards and up from the table, shoving the table several inches forward and toppling his chair, sending it sliding back several feet. As he pivoted to face the intruders, his hand would have reached for the gun which was no longer on his belt. Family arguments forgotten, Shawn had heard him yell a single word just as he joined them in the doorway. He winced at the memory of hearing his name fearfully shouted just minutes ago, once again making this whole thing all too real.
His hair was released from the tight fisted grip just before the arm was removed from his airway. The freedom was sheer bliss but Shawn had no time for relief as he was shoved, hard, in the back with such force that he tumbled far enough into the entrance of the cabin to clear the doorway. He could only suck in lungful after lungful of air as he lay on his stomach, arms splayed out in front of him. He barely registered the sound of the door closing behind him before Gabe stepped over him, quite literally, to make his inspection of the cabin.
Shawn blinked away grit from his eyes, pulling a hand to his face to aid in the process. Slowly, he rolled to the side as he brought his knees underneath him into a kneeling position. Quickly, he sought out his dad’s face and waggled his fingertips. Only then did the old man seem to breathe for the first time. Oh, he was still angry—never mind that—but he no longer appeared to be a half-second away from flying out of his own skin. Shawn considered that about the best that could be expected.
Making eye contact with everyone else, he determined that they were all well and unharmed though understandably shaken. Mick and Dan had taken up positions in front of the group, their double barrel shotguns doing an adequate job of crowd control.
Evening was now nearly at hand, the time of evening where nightfall comes fast and hard. Shawn noted the few oil lamps already lit. Henry was prepared. Of course, he wouldn’t have minded if there were a few more, but hey. It was serviceable and it worked. Though the shadows they cast were harsh and disorienting, he could at least see well enough to keep tabs on their captors.
Speaking of which, Gabe began casually strolling around the cabin’s interior, picking up a few random objects and eyeing them critically before setting them down without care for their being.
“Well, well, well, Jack. When I told you that we’d be back, I actually expected that you might take the warning seriously and do something about it.”
Jack shrugged nervously. “Gentlemen, I understand what you’re saying,” he gestured with palms clasped together. “However, I need more time.”
“More time for what? Dinner parties? Is that what you’re telling me? Cause that’s what I’m seeing Jack. I’m seeing just how little you respect me.”
“No, no,” Jack assured, “I just didn’t think you were going to be back tonight so I didn’t have time to prepare. That’s all kittens, I promise.” He pasted on an easy smile and unclasped his hands in peace.
“Jack, Jack,” Gabe stopped his investigation of the fireplace mantle and clucked his tongue. “See, I get a little…upset…when people take me for stupid. Now I’ve chased enough double-crossers to know when someone is about to run. And Jack?”
“Yes,” Jack answered, genuinely looking interested.
“I already told you—there ain’t no running. But look at me being all unmannered when you’ve got important company. Boys, it looks like we crashed us here a dinner party to which we weren’t invited,” Gabe called out over his shoulder as he placed the trinket back on its place on the mantle and once again resume his slow walk around the cabin.
The others just grunted in badly restrained excitement. Something about this made Shawn very, very, nervous. Given the way that his dad had drifted closer to him and Gus had moved closer to Jack, he could tell that he wasn’t the only one. Shawn brought his hand up to his face, using his sleeve to brush away the nervous sweat that pooled in beads on his upper lip.
“Now, it doesn’t hardly seem civilized that we’ve been nice and gentlemanly and introduced ourselves but our Ole’ Buddy Jack, here, hasn’t bothered to introduce his dinner friends. That don’t seem fair, does it boys?”
“Don’t seem hardly right at all.”
“There you go, Jack, I think you owe your good friends an introduction. What do you say you come up here and start the introducing.”
“See, here’s the thing…I don’t think that’s a good idea because they were leaving tomorrow.”
Shawn breathed in and then held it, afraid to breathe out just yet as Gabe remained expressionless. Suddenly, he tipped his head and laughed. Jack joined in nervously, nodding affirmatively, until Gabe stopped laughing abruptly, nailed Jack with a stare and said in a deadpan voice, “humor me.”
“Well,” Jack stammered and pointed. “That’s my dad.”
Gramps rolled his eyes. Disgust, amusement, impatience, Shawn couldn’t quite tell—with Grampa Spencer those expressions were always really similar unless Gramps opened his mouth to tell you what he thought. Given that Gramps grunted in a huffing like fashion, Shawn was leaning towards, my dinner is getting cold, jackass.
Gabe’s eyes widened as he continued circling the room slowly. His thick soled leather boots hit each step hard, testifying as to the sheer bulk of the man. He continued his slow and methodical pace until he came to a stop in front of Gramps, cocking his head and folding his arms as if he had all the time in the world.
“So, Jack here’s your kid, huh?”
Shawn held his breath, relived that for now, his dad remained quiet. He was worried about his Grandpa too but Gramps, well, he just seemed to do a better job at playing cool.
Gabe prodded further when he didn’t get a response. “Because, I gotta say, sir, you could have taught him a little better.”
Un-intimidated, Gramps returned the barb fast and without delay. “True. But I suppose I did about as well as your own momma.”
To Shawn’s left, Henry groaned and rubbed his forehead. Shawn waited in sheer dread for retribution, somewhat surprised when it didn’t come. “Dad,” Henry quietly warned.
Gabe’s eyes narrowed as he left his position in front of Gramps and resumed his rounds, stopping only when he approached Henry.
“Dad, huh?” Gabe glanced comparing Henry to his father to his brother and back to Henry again. “Got quite the family here, Jack. I suppose the mouth comes honestly.”
The backhand came quickly, taking Henry by surprise, knocking his face to the side and nearly throwing him off balance.
“Dad!” Shawn yelped and moved to rush forward only to stop as the shotguns were aimed in his direction.
“Shawn, keep quiet!”
Choiceless, again; he backed off, biting his lip in worry.
“We got another dad!” Gabe laughed. “I think I’m starting to get it—it just keeps getting better. We got us a reunion here, boys!”
Gabe’s companions whooped like excited jackals, sending painful shivers down the length of Shawn’s spine.
“I’m alright, Shawn.” Henry said quietly, gesturing to Shawn to be quiet and lay low. Easier said than done, Shawn thought, wincing, as he saw the beginning of a fat lip already forming on his dad’s mouth.
“Yeah, Jack. This is some family,” Gabe resumed his slow saunter around the room. Shawn caught the subtle head nod between the intruders as the big man slowly made his way over to Shawn. Mick and Dan disappeared from Shawn’s peripheral vision as they flanked him on either side. He couldn’t see them but he could feel their presence just behind him nonetheless.
“So that’s your dad? And he,” Gabe pointed to Gramps, “is your pops and Jack’s dad. I think I’m starting to understand. What I don’t understand is where you come in,” he addressed to Gus.
Feeling suddenly protective, Shawn stepped in with hardly a thought. Though, he wouldn’t mind if his legs would get with the program and stop trying to build lift for take off.
“This is my brother Aloysius Onacracker,” he said, daring anyone to believe otherwise. The room remained quiet, save for Gus’ whimper. Shawn registered Gabe’s obvious disbelief and realized that he would have to really sell it. Swallowing hard to put every ounce of confidence in his voice, Shawn added, “I’m adopted.”
“Ah, I see. That does explain a lot. I also see where you get your mouth. I’m sure you can’t help it; from what I see, being a smart-mouth runs in your family. But, I’m afraid that you’ll just have to learn some time when to shut up.” As he spoke, he held out a hand, motioning for one of his companions to pass over a weapon. Without warning Gabe buried the stock of his rifle in Shawn’s gut, doubling him over and sinking him to his knees.
His stomach muscles clenched and locked in rebellion. He could breathe neither in nor out, causing the minutes that passed to feel like an eternity. A groaning keen passed over his teeth and he squeezed his eyes shut and curled inward on himself while waiting for the agony to pass.
Somewhere over the sound of his own wheezing, he heard the boots hit the floorboards again as Gabe paced back and forth.
“You see, Jack? I told you that you couldn’t hide. I told you that running would make it worse for everyone. Jack…meet everyone,” he roughly nudged Shawn in the small of the back as he remained curled inward on the floor, gasping for air. The toe of his heavy soled work boot elicited another pained groan. The large hand once again gripped Shawn by the hair, yanking his head sharply back and forcing him to meet his uncle’s sickened face. “Everyone, meet your Uncle Jack.”
“Leave the kid alone,” Jack stammered. “I’m right here.” Though his words were brave, Shawn felt his heart sink as Jack edged further away in a futile attempt to hide behind the chair.
“It’s too late for that, Jack.” Gabe released the death grip on Shawn’s hair. Free from his grip, Shawn sunk down gratefully to wrap an arm around his abused stomach. “You see, I’ve done some checking on you and I don’t like what I’ve seen. I think it’s about time you learned a lesson. Boys! You ready for some fun?”
None of that sounded good. While Shawn’s hair had been horribly manhandled, he didn’t see that Mick and Dan had taken position behind Henry, holding him back tightly.
Not good at all.
Gabe quickly stepped back over to roughly pull Shawn to his feet.
His dad struggled vainly to get to him and Gus looked distinctly ill. Shawn could respect that; he felt about the same.
Shawn took a hit to the jaw that left him reeling. He never saw that one coming and was amazed that a man that big could move that fast. He was knocked off of his feet and landed flat on his back, having the wind knocked out of him yet again.
Unable to fight back, Shawn did the only thing that he could do—curl on his side in a fetal position and protect his vital organs, maybe even his coccyx.
He tuned out everything and concentrated solely on keeping himself in a tight little ball, though in the distance his mind registered his dad’s cursing. He willed his dad to stop and not make himself a target, not knowing just what these men were capable of.
“You see what can happen, Jack?” Gabe delivered a swift kick to Shawn’s kidneys. “You want this to stop?” Another sharp kick followed. “Then deliver on what you promised. I’ll be back in two days. Oh, you’ll find that your cars are…well, I’m afraid your trade-in value isn’t what it used to be.”
The boots walked away. Shawn wasn’t sure how long it had been before he registered this fact. He was only grateful that the beating appeared to be over. He couldn’t spare an arm that was wrapped protectively around his midsection so he used his shoulder to wipe the moisture that leaked from his eyes.
Gabe kept the rifle aimed at Henry. Shawn could tell that the gun was the only thing keeping his dad from losing it completely, the rage rolled off of him in waves. Quickly, Shawn scanned the room to track the whereabouts of Dan and Mick. The two men were helping themselves to the contents of the dining room table, taking forkfuls full of food, stuffing their cheeks to capacity, and their pockets with biscuits. Whatever they couldn’t keep on their person or in their stomach, they dumped onto the floor.
“C’mon boys!” Gabe called out sharply. His minions threw the remaining plates and bowls across the room and gathered up their stash. They kicked at the bowls and plates on floor and stomped on piles of food, squishing the mess deeper into the cracks of the floorboards as they made their way to the front door. Gabe, keeping his rifle up and ready, walked backwards to join them.
“Now, don’t make me come back here and teach you another lesson. The kid might not make it.” Stepping backwards beyond the door frame, he reached in to pull the door shut behind him. “Now you gentlemen have a nice night.”
From his vantage spot on the floor, he surveyed the damage left in Gabe’s wake. Squinting past the pain, all he could see was their beautiful dinner trashed on the table and all over the floor.
Have a nice night?
Snackless in Seattle by SydneyWoo
I think that I shall dedicate this chapter to my lovely Stray. Because she is that awesome.
Many thanks to dragonnan for helping me to wrestle this out of my head. There was a lot of stuff cluttering up the place in there. There was lots of dust...and raccoons. It wasn't pleasant.
Thank you for your patience while RL has bled me dry. I appreciate it. Sorry for the wait!
And now I'm going to quit babbling, already, and get on with the story...
All was dead quiet. As the sounds of footsteps faded into the distance, Shawn used the moment to release the breath that had boarded up his lungs. No one seemed to want to move in the lull that followed. He wondered if the others shared his fear that the bad dudes were just messing with their heads, lulling their prey into a false sense of security before circling back, kicking down the door, and shouting “Just kidding, we’re gonna kill you after all!”
But, since he couldn’t exactly stay in this agonizing position forever, it looked like the responsibility as the first to move fell upon him. It was weird being the proactive one all of a sudden. He grunted as the attempt to pull himself up strained muscles which had just been horribly and viciously assaulted.
Then suddenly, as if a switch were flipped, the room was once again returned to motion. Shawn wasn’t sure that there wasn’t brain damage on his part because it seemed like an old-time carousel. The room’s occupants seemed to start off in slow-motion with low, distorted, tones before speeding up to a faster frenetic pace that made him dizzy; Gramps making the few steps towards the table with his off-kiltered gait before slowly lowering himself to the floor where he would begin the long task of cleaning up the mess; Jack, surprisingly, joined his father using one of the larger pieces of broken dishes to hold the smaller shards; Dad and Gus swarmed in on his position suddenly.
They squatted down in front of him with no warning and peered at him with wide eyes, mere inches from his own. Their proximity made him suddenly feel like there wasn’t enough air in the cabin. He desperately needed space. Shawn tried to scuttle backwards but his movements were hampered by uncooperative limbs and an aching head that didn’t appreciate the sudden attempt at movement.
“Come on, kid. Let’s get you to the couch. Gus,” Henry motioned. Between the two of them, they helped Shawn to his feet. He couldn’t even begin to straighten up between his stomach and his bruised back; he could only shuffle awkwardly, hunched over as they guided him. Settling back into the couch was almost more agonizing than the beating itself as he bent painfully at the knees and bent as far as he could halfway down before dropping the remaining distance into the cushions.
He leaned back and covered his eyes with the crook of his arm, waiting for the throbs to subside. Clenching his jaw was a mistake and he whimpered in response.
Shawn heard the scrape of a chair as it was set in front of him. However, he didn’t move. The roof could cave in, the ground swallow them up whole, or Smokey the Bear himself could ride a unicycle on a tightrope while wearing a conch shell bikini and it wouldn’t matter—he wasn’t moving from this position.
Until he felt hands reach for the buttons of his shirt.
“Suck it up, Shawn, you’re getting checked out.”
“Not by the likes of you!”
“Don’t flatter yourself,” Henry admonished as he lifted up the edge of Shawn’s shirt. With a light touch, his dad pressed around his ribcage. “I don’t feel anything broken, but I wouldn’t be surprised if something is cracked.”
Henry continued pressing gently in incremental intervals. Shawn couldn’t help but notice the surprising softness of his fingers. Mani-pedis, he wondered with an upraised eyebrow, what the? Despite the gentle touch, his dad hit a particularly tender spot. Shawn moaned, unable to hold it in. Steeling himself, he looked down and couldn’t help but notice the bright red bruises already forming above the waist band.
Gus rematerialized and moments later a cool washcloth was placed on his forehead. Shawn groaned again, this time from relief.
<*> <*> <*>
The next few hours passed silently. The others were occupied with clean-up mode at the moment which greatly relieved Shawn. They were out of his face, for the most part, and no longer hovering. Though, Gus did see fit to check on him every now and then. Having been throttled a few hours before, Shawn got the coveted get-out-of-housework free card. He briefly entertained the notion that he would have to keep this in mind the next time his dad roped him into some king of ungodly D.I.Y. project. He shifted slightly on the couch and pulled in a wince. Well, he wouldn’t completely rule it out anyway.
Shawn peeked out between slit eyelids as he had done every now and then just to make sure that his dad didn’t choke Jack when no one was looking. So far so good. But he could tell that the storm was coming. If he thought that his dad looked one step from the edge before their lovely dinner, he was within a hair’s breadth of ballisticness. To the casual observer, Henry appeared to be calm, cool, and collected. Shawn knew better. His dad was too calm. Entirely too calm. Eye-of-Hurricane-Henry calm, as it were.
“I don’t think you’re going to be able to hold off your dad this time, Shawn.”
“Yeah, I was just thinking that.”
“I’m actually kind of looking forward to it.”
“Really?” He asked, amused.
“I’m just saying,” Gus shrugged. “Jack kinda has it coming this time.”
Shawn considered it for a while, rubbing his nose while deep in thought.
“You sure you’re okay?”
Shawn looked up suddenly at Gus’ worried expression, wondering how long he’d zoned out that time. He lowered his hand and forced a smile that didn’t quite make it to his eyes.
“Yeah, buddy. It’s good.” He could tell from the worry wrinkles on Gus’ magnificent forehead that he wasn’t buying it. Still, his friend didn’t say anything probably knowing that sooner or later this would all get sorted out properly with beer, pizza, and a Riptide marathon.
He had drifted off again. For a couple hours at least, based on the progress of clean-up efforts. Impressive.
Shawn scrubbed at his face before gingerly testing his jaw. It had stiffened considerably over the last few hours. His jaw wasn’t the only thing by the feel of it. He whined deep in his throat as he tried to pull himself up into a sitting position. He decided quickly that it just wasn’t worth the effort and eased back down.
He huffed out a breath as the muscles in his back twitched, sending tidal waves of soreness flowing outwards through his abdomen and ribcage.
If he felt like this already then things didn’t look good for him in the morning.
As if by magic, his dad appeared at his side with a glass of water and a bottle of pain killers.
“Here, let me help you up.”
Shawn gratefully accepted the arm this time and between the two of them with much huffing and puffing, he finally sat upright.
“Thanks. Nice shiner, by the way,” Shawn nodded.
“Yeah, well, shoulda seen the other guy,” Henry said with a lopsided smirk.
“I did and I gotta tell ya-”
“Shut up and take these.”
Shawn grinned in victory as he downed the two pills and greedily gulped down the glass of water. When his dad produced a salvaged piece of a biscuit—more of a morsel than anything—Shawn very nearly cried.
“It’s not much but you need something to go with the pills. We’ll see if we can’t come up with something more tomorrow.”
He held the piece of biscuit in his hands and simply stared at it for a moment. It was beautiful. The simply joy of finally being able to put food in his mouth completely made up for the screaming protest of his jaw. He ate slowly: in part because it was small enough that he wanted to savor every morsel, but mostly because he simply couldn’t eat any faster. By the time that he had finished it his jaw throbbed hotly and his stomach threatened to rebel. Not only was he feeling unsettled from the stress of the last few hours and the abuse, but the few bites of biscuit only managed to fan the flames of hunger even brighter.
Irony. Cruel, cruel, irony.
As if that wasn’t bad enough—Shawn swallowed—clean up had finished.
Which meant that distractions were over.
The knot tightened as Shawn realized that the moment of truth was at hand. The calm eye of Hurricane Henry had passed over the island and the second eyewall was about to hit.
Gus must have sensed it too as he scurried over to the couch to sit next to him. Shawn glanced at him and the neatly folded hands clasped over his lap that he referred to as the “Schoolboy Gus” pose.
He leaned over and whispered “You know you’re not in trouble, right?”
“I’m not taking any chances, Shawn” Gus whispered back.
“I think it’s about time you told us all about your friends, Jack.”
“Look, I already told you. They’re not my friends.”
“Is that right?”
“Yeah, that’s right.”
“Bull,” Henry jabbed his finger, accusingly. “You know a lot more than you’re letting on. Now it’s time to come clean with the whole story. I want to know who they are, what they want, and just how deep you’re into it with them.”
“Listen…brother, we could spend all night pointing fingers or we could ju-”
Without warning, Henry strode over to Jack and grabbed him by the lapels. In one swift motion that left Shawn staring gape-mouthed and Gus whistling in appreciation he pulled Jack out of his chair and shoved him against the wall.
“We are not pointing fingers, Jack. There is no we here. There is just you. You have no say in the matter.” Henry said crisply, punctuating his words by pinning his brother further against the wall with each clearly enunciated syllable.
Shawn stopped staring at the sight only long enough to register movement out of the corner of his eye. He nudged Gus with his elbow and nodded towards the corner of the room where Gramps had started to make his way over. The man looked tired and much older. Shawn leaned slightly to the left and whispered “I wonder if this is his take on good cop-bad cop.”
“Cut the crap, son. I’m with Henry on this one—as much as it pains me to admit it—you’ve gone too far this time.”
Shawn felt Gus lean in, he mirrored the action as well even though he never took his eyes off of the scene directly in front of them.
“Uh, Shawn? I think this is bad cop-bad cop.”
“It shames me, Gus, but you’re right. I did not see this coming.”
Slowly Shawn and Gus straightened themselves upright and resumed watching.
“What are they coming after in two days?”
“I don’t really know.”
“I swear, Jack, I will hurt you.” Henry tightened his hold on Jack’s collar.
“No really. I mean it,” Jack sputtered. Stress clung to each word. “I don’t know.”
“Then you had better start telling me what you do know and you had better start talking fast.”
“Look…” Jack paused. He glanced around the room nervously as if unsure where to begin. For a moment, Shawn allowed himself to believe that just maybe Uncle Jack was genuinely confused.
The moment of hesitation took too long, it seemed, as Henry gave Jack another shove, reminding him that the clock was ticking.
“All I know,” Jack spat and gestured with hands upraised in surrender, “is that Gabe is looking for some kind of rock formations. And he seems to think that I can find them for him.”
“Why on earth would he think that you know anything about the rock formations around here.”
“Fine!” he barked in exasperation. “I might have taken a trip to the outfitters in the valley. And I might have stopped at the bar next door. And I might have gotten a little drunk at the time and the waitress might have been exceptionally hot.”
Jack’s eyes sparkled at the memory, seemingly replaying it in his mind. Another shove pulled him back to reality.
“I’m just saying—if you would have seen her, you would so…so totally-understand what I’m saying!”
“Get on with the rest of it.”
“Okay, so I’m chatting it up with Rhonda…that’s her name…and I might have let it slip that after overcoming insurmountable odds and with no resources whatsoever that I found Bouchard’s treasure.”
“What?” Gus shouted indignantly. “Shawn found that treasure!”
“Yeah!” Shawn exclaimed, thinking that maybe Gus was right; Jack did have it coming.
“Look, boys, my pals, I know what you’re saying…and I agree with you on principle. But come on! Rhonda-” Jack gestured a curvaceous female figure as if that would clarify everything.
Henry released Jack’s lapels and pinched the bridge of his nose before massaging his temples. Jack took the moment to smooth down the wrinkles of his shirt.
“I’m sorry, boys. I didn’t mean anything by it. You know that I have the utmost respect for you. I didn’t realize that anyone was listening in on me and Rhonda’s very private conversation, if you dig my gist.”
“So let me guess,” Henry cut him off, disgusted. “Gabe and his henchmen overhear all the exaggerated tales of adventure from a real-life treasure hunter and they figure ‘hey!, here’s a guy who can find this thing that we’re looking for?’ How much did you promise them?”
“Nothing, I swear.”
“Right,” Henry said flatly, clearly disbelieving.
“I’m dead serious, Henry. Like I told you; they’re not my partners. When I started on this job a few weeks ago, it was supposedly for a handsome reward if I were successful. Somewhere along the way, it became about keeping my immaculately handsome features firmly attached to my face.”
“Not that we’re done talking about Gabe and his men, but what are you even doing here? As far as I know, you’ve only been out here once before over twenty years ago.”
“About that…” Jack scratched his shoulder absentmindedly. “So I might be hiding out from my partners.”
“I knew it!”
“Oh get off it, Henry. They don’t even know that I’m here and they have no way to trace this place back to me. This whole thing is just bad luck.”
“It’s bad luck, alright. It’s the same bad luck that always seems to find you. Funny, isn’t it?”
“What’s so special about these rock formations that he needs your help?” Shawn spoke up, suddenly curious. None of this was really making sense. And while he got the feeling that Jack believed what he was saying, he also got the feeling that he still knew more than he was letting on.
“That, my boy, is a good question. See? This is why I’m glad that you’re all here.”
“No,” Henry said, threateningly.
“C’mon, the kid can help.”
“No way. You’re not getting him mixed up in another one of your schemes.”
“Uncle Jack, this doesn’t make sense. Gabe doesn’t strike me as the kind of guy who really enjoys random hikes in the woods and taking pictures of rocks. What does a guy like that want with a rock formation?”
“Another good question. I am telling you, kid. You are on a roll.”
“This is ridiculous. My son has already gotten too involved in what’s going on here, Jack.” Henry turned his back on Jack and pulled a suitcase from under a cot. Haphazardly, he began shoving his belongings. “At first light, we’re heading out. Enjoy your rocks.”
“Henry,” Jack pleaded. “You heard the guy. He trashed your truck and from the sounds of it, he found the car that I had hidden down in the valley. How are you planning on getting out when the nearest town is twenty miles away?”
“We’ll manage. We’ll walk it if we have to and we’ll still be better off than staying here and getting pulled in deeper into your mess.”
“Did you even hear what I said?”
Henry whirled around with such ferocity that it caused Shawn to startle. He jabbed a finger at Jack and bore down on him with even more intensity. “You listen! There is no way in hell that I’m going to allow you to throw my son to the wolves again. Tonight they just roughed him up while they made me watch. If you think for a second that I’m going to give them another chance to do worse just to save your miserable hide, then you’ve got another thing coming.”
Jack raised his hands in surrender and backed off a few steps. He then clasped his hands behind his neck and retreated to the far corner.
Even knowing that there was much more to this than Jack was letting on, Shawn just couldn’t let it go. Maybe it was because there was more to this and he needed to sort it out?
He closed his eyes and began rubbing his temples with his fingertips before he could stop himself. Gabe and his boys weren’t the nature loving types. But there was something…but what…
A slap to his knee pulled him from his thoughts. He looked up in surprise at his father’s stone-faced expression.
“You and Gus need to pack up your things and get some sleep. We’re leaving first thing.”
“I mean it, Shawn.”
“Don’t you think this is all wrong?”
“Uh, Shawn,” Gus interrupted. “I think that’s why he wants us to leave.”
“I didn’t bring everyone here to get caught up in Jack’s troubles. I sure as hell am not going to stick around for what happens next. That’s not my job.” With that, Henry crossed his arms and glared.
Shawn returned the glare with one of his own, and added his signature eyebrow-cock and sneer. “Well isn’t that convenient,” Shawn shook his head in disbelief. “What do you mean ‘not our job?’ You just signed back onto the force! I know you brought your badge. And you have a gun…somewhere,” Shawn acknowledged. “But still! There is malarkey going on afoot and I’d dare say a fair amount of hooliganism. Don’t tell me that you approve of hooligans, because I know better.”
Gramps chimed in. “What if we stayed for a few hours tomorrow? Then left in the afternoon?”
“Dad, don’t you start-” Henry uncrossed one arm to rub his eyes.
Shawn was getting to him. He’d loosened the peanut butter jar. Now time to toss an apple in his mouth and knock out a home run with a cherry on top.
“Look, all I’m saying is that if we don’t do something about these guys, who will? We’re out in the middle of nowhere where they’re completely under the radar. Are you telling me that you can just let those guys get away with this in good conscience? After what they did to your boy?” Shawn fixed him with a stare. He kept up the intensity but decided he needed to soften the expression just a bit. After all, finesse was needed. The goal was to play on Henry’s sense of duty and not back him against a wall.
From the other side of the cabin—where he had pretended to not pay attention to their conversation—Jack clapped his hands together. “How about this? We could all split up and look for Gabe’s magic rocks faster. At least then you’d have something that you could put in a police report?”
“Come on, pops, what’d ya say? Gus thinks it’s a good idea too.” Shawn gestured grandly in Gus’ direction.
“Uh…no. Gus most certainly does not. Gus wants to leave tonight.”
“Gus, you know your vote doesn’t count when you talk about yourself in the third person.”
“Shut up. I’m with your dad on this one.” As if his sudden betrayal wasn’t enough, Gus popped up from his place on the couch and stood beside Henry, eyeing him up and down, and then mirroring his stance down to the smug look of defiance.
“Gus?” Shawn pleaded. Gus merely shrugged his shoulders and looked away with the flick of his nose.
“We’re leaving. End of story.”
“Don’t I have a say in any of this?” A wave of helpless anger washed over Shawn with an intensity that left him taken aback and somewhat afraid of himself. He could no more stop the outburst than he could hold it in. Just as suddenly, the tide pulled the wave back into the depths and he was left standing at the shore of a tide pool of muddy emotions, breathing raggedly. Ashamed at himself, he sniffed roughly, and scratched at his nose with the cuff of his sleeve.
It was uncomfortably quiet. For long minutes no one spoke or even looked at each other.
His dad’s resigned tone caused him to look up from his in-depth exploration of the floorboards with pursed lips and widened, hopeful, eyes.
“We’ll stay until two o’clock and then we’re gone. I mean it, Shawn. Not a minute longer.”
“Understood,” he acknowledged with a nod. “Thank you. And dad? What can go wrong?”
Another Freaking New Day in Paradise. Perfect. by SydneyWoo
Morning came early at the cabin, as it always did. Out here, there was never such a thing as sleeping in. The elements dictated your cycles of sleeping and waking. Multiple wakings, as a matter of fact.
The birds settled in typically around 9 p.m. At that point, the crickets and locusts would take over. Right around midnight, Shawn had been jolted awake by a coyote pack as it chased some hapless animal around the perimeter of the cabin before dashing off into the treeline. An animal’s scream was cut off sharply a few moments later, signaling the moment where the pack caught up with their unfortunate prey.
The hammering of Shawn’s heart nearly drowned out the triumphant chatters and chortles of the pack as they began singing a victory chorus. It was eerie as hell. He hated every bit of it.
But every night, without fail, as the night deepened, there came a lull when everything became perfectly still.
He remembered coming out here as a boy. The first night that it happened, it had scared him out of his mind. He had never in his short life ever experienced true “quiet” before. Combined with the absolute void of a new moon’s pitch dark evening, to Shawn’s young mind it was a disaster. For him, it was as if he were plummeted head first into a sensory deprivation chamber.
His dad had found him buried underneath his blankets the following morning, wide-eyed and still awake, with tear stains tracking down his cheeks.
It was easy to take a simple thing like light for granted. It was just always there…even when you thought it was dark. Even growing up on the outskirts of Santa Barbara, the light pollution of the city filtered in through the windows and underneath his bedroom door. The low-level hum of the refrigerator downstairs or the furnace kicking on in the middle of the night just added to the list of things that were filtered out and went about largely unnoticed. These were all everyday things that were taken for granted, not even noticed on a conscious level. But out here, their absence was glaringly obvious.
And if one found themselves awake—as Shawn was now—when this portion of the wee morning came to be…well, good luck getting back to sleep. In the absence of any other natural sounds, the rustle of sleeping bags and the wheezing breaths from across the room grated on his ears as loudly as airhorns.
Worse yet was the chill that seeped into his bones. As the night temps dropped, dampness drew into the leaky cabin. He could feel the moisture settling on the top of his blanket and into his pillow. The damp pulled out scents that couldn’t be detected previously. The musty odors assaulted his nose and tickled at his sinuses.
For the life of him, he couldn’t figure out why his dad was so determined to romanticize this place.
At least this particular night wasn’t pitch black and moonless. As he lay on his back staring at the ceiling, at least he could actually look at the rough hewn timbers and concentrate on something.
Something other than the stiffening of his muscles into tightly wound coils, that is.
As if the complete inability to sleep on top of a rumbling stomach wasn’t bad enough, Shawn was pretty sure that he had to pee.
He mentally kicked himself for even thinking of the word pee. He had now just inflicted himself with the pee curse, the bane of the great outdoors. Even though he was in no way comfortable, he had at least found that sweet, snuggly, spot where the springs in the mattress didn’t hurt quite as much.
Plus, just thinking of trying to move at this point brought tears to his eyes.
Then again, he knew that the process of getting out of bed was going to take considerable time and effort. Did he need to plan ahead? Would he make it in time?
Great…now he was obsessing about having to pee. Now there was no way that he couldn’t commit himself to having to get up and do something about it. But had he spent so long thinking about it that he’d just made the problem ten times more urgent? Maybe?
Steeling himself for massive hurtification coming his way, he grabbed the sides of the cot and tried to pull himself up. He made it all of three inches before groaning and settling back down.
Perfect. Now, his burning muscles flared in anger and his bladder was wide awake, screaming for attention by jumping up and down yelling “Ooh, ooh, me! Me! Me! Me!” As much as he hated to admit it, he now totally understood why Ms. West couldn’t stand him as a first grader. It really was quite obnoxious.
By some force of nature or divine prominence, Shawn managed to waddle (quite sexily) to the outhouse and back cursing himself the entire time because that whole line of thought was just so very wrong. Even as he shuffled along, he was planning the dialogue that he would share with his dad later ‘You know what’s manly? Indoor plumbing.’ As he staggered back into the cabin, hunched over and holding his aching ribs, he couldn’t help but wonder if he looked like Gramps.
He was heavily out of breath by the time he returned back to his cot and settled back in. Disgusted with the slow progression of the night, he glanced at his watch. Four-thirteen a.m.
Breakfast was meager; a half slice of toast for each plus a few Vienna sausages straight out of the can. How long that can had been in the pantry, Shawn didn’t even want to know. On the bright side, if the zombie apocalypse were to happen tomorrow they’d at least have a few more cans of sausage.
At least, Shawn thought with a fair bit of smugness, that he wasn’t the only hungry one now. The universe was starting to sort itself out again.
His dad broke the silence that had dominated the subdued family time with a rattle of a pain killer bottle. This was one time that Shawn wasn’t going to put up an argument and he accepted the bottle gratefully with a grunt of appreciation.
No more words were said between the men as they ate the paltry meal in silence. From the puffy eyed stares cemented firmly on their plates, Shawn wondered if everyone else had the same quality of sleep that had tormented him during the night.
Shawn must have zoned out again. He realized with embarrassment that the table had been cleared and their equipment had been largely packed and organized for their departure.
Henry was in full go-mode. Once he had his nose pointed in a direction, there was no stopping him. Shawn wondered, with a deadened weight in his stomach, just how worried his dad was. Given the near perfection of the folded bedding, tied into bundles, and stacked by descending size, the answer was ‘very’.
A measure of Shawn’s bravado and determination from the night before flickered and then vaporized. He wondered if this was the right thing to do or if they shouldn’t do just as his dad wanted and just get the hell out of there.
In the opposite corner, he could hear his dad interrogating Jack, pressing him for more information. He could also hear Jack, not offering up anything useful that he already hadn’t offered up the night before. Still, with Jack, he supposed it never hurt to ask, ask again, and then ask some more. If there was one thing that he’d learned in the last year was that you had to ask the right question.
“Alright,” Henry called out from the middle of the cabin. “If we’re going to do this, we need to get on it. We’ll meet back here at one o’clock and then hike towards the ranger station as far as we can before making camp.”
Shawn could hear Gus gulp nervously from across the room.
“We’ll separate into two groups to help the searching go faster. Shawn-”
“I’ll go with Jack,” he sputtered before he even had a chance to think about it.
Henry just stood motionless, staring at him with narrowed eyes. Shawn held the stare and narrowed his eyes in return. Finally, Henry relented and turned to Gus with a grunt. “Gus, you’re with me. Dad, I need you to stay here, keep an eye on the place, and get the last of our things ready to go.”
Gus sidled up next to Shawn, and leaned over slightly. It was Gus-speak for I’m about to talk in a low voice but I’m going to make it so obvious that everyone will suddenly be quiet, strain their ears, and end up hearing whatever I’m saying, regardless.
True to form, Gus spoke in his low-not-quite-a-whisper. “Are you going to be okay with just you and your Uncle Jack?”
“Yeah…I’m sorry buddy, I just-” Shawn’s own not-quite-a-whisper was interrupted by Gus’ epic mind reading capabilities.
“Didn’t want to have to report your uncle’s murder by your dad?”
Shawn chuckled in amusement, wincing at the pull on his ribs. “Exactly. Thanks.”
“Don’t mention it. I’ll just add it to your tab.”
“Shawn, after the things that you’ve made me endure this weekend what part about ‘owing me’ don’t you understand?”
“So, again, we don’t really know what we’re looking for other than ‘some kind of special rocks.’ Am I right?” Sure it was a question that had already been asked countless times. But since Shawn didn’t really have anything else that he wanted to discuss with his uncle, and since he still felt the need to know, and since he really had nothing else better to do, he felt pretty good about asking the question. Again.
“You know, kid, I’m starting to get what your dad used to whine about with regards to your listening skills.”
Shawn let the dig slide, choosing instead to best spend his energy by whacking at a fairly dense pile of dead sticks with an even bigger and deader stick. The pile refused to give way so he opted for Plan B: kicking at it. Plan B did yield somewhat different results. The pile of sticks yielded enough to allow his foot to become entangled inside.
Jack’s chuckles only served to infuriate Shawn more. As he cursed loudly, he whacked at the large brush pile until it finally broke apart enough to pull his foot out. By now, Shawn was winded and aching. With slower movements than previously, he pulled at the brush, separating the pile bit by bit. Only when he could see clearly enough through the branches and determine that the pile wasn’t hiding any potential targets underneath did he leave that location and continue on his way, whacking through the overgrowth.
He would stop every so often to catch his breath and wipe the sweat from his forehead. His muscles still ached and if he moved just right—or wrong—his ribs would kick his spleen in revenge. For the most part, he could ignore the dull ache, yet he knew that if he dared stop for too long or take a break sitting down, then the pain would return with renewed energy.
“Do you know how big of an area that we need to search?” Shawn asked between panting breaths.
“Not particulary, no.”
“Large rocks?” He pressed.
“I don’t know.”
“I don’t know”
“Shape, color, consistency?”
“I DON’T KNOW!”
“Pet rocks?” Shawn smirked innocently. He needed this. The headache that had threatened to bloom and burst dissolved away into tiny bubbles. It was like Alka-Seltzer for the soul.
“Cute,” said Jack, flatly, clearly not amused.
“I thought so. Look, I just don’t get what Gabe was trying to accomplish by sending you out looking for something that you can’t even describe.”
“What can I say? Gabe isn’t exceptionally bright, but he’s big-” Jack grunted as he pulled on a particularly stubborn vine blocking his path. “…and likes to hit people. It evens things out.”
“No,” Shawn shook his head, refusing to accept otherwise. “That’s not it. He has a reason that he doesn’t want us to know what we’re looking for. We’re missing something really important.”
“What we’re missing is a cold beer and a good time.”
Shawn opened his mouth to reply—even as he hacked away at a particularly stubborn overhanging vine but stopped short—just a few feet away from the edge of the thicket appeared to be a large clearing. He cocked his head and stared for a few seconds to make sure that he wasn’t just wishing and hoping it into existence. Satisfied that his eyes were not lying to him, Shawn began to chop at the last vestiges of the wall of vegetation standing between him and freedom.
“Alright Gus, we’ve been at this for two hours now. Have you seen anything unusual?”
“You mean other than discarded beer cans, used condoms, and the occasional candy wrapper?”
“Yeah,” Henry sighed and hunched over, resting his hands on his knees and allowing the movement to take pressure off of his lower back. “Other than that.”
“Nope,” Gus affirmed with a single head shake and an expression of absolute disgust.
“That’s what I was afraid of. I’ve seen my share of rocks around here, but nothing that jumps out at me as anything unusual.”
“It would help if we knew why we were looking for stupid rocks in the first place.”
“That would help, yes.”
“Do you think Jack really knows?”
“I really don’t know. I think that there is more that Jack knows that he’s not telling—he wouldn’t be Jack, otherwise—but I think in this regard, he’s as much in the dark as we are.”
“What are you going to do if we find these rocks…or whatever they are?”
“Honestly, I haven’t thought that far ahead.” Henry practically choked down the admission. In actuality, there wasn’t a whole lot that he could do either way. He didn’t have a phone and the cabin wasn’t wired for it. The only thing that even resembled a plan was meeting back with the others at their allotted time and getting the hell out of there. If they had found something by then, he was thinking of filling Jack in and leaving him behind to use the knowledge of the discovery as he saw fit.
No matter what, it was a long walk to town so no matter the outcome it would take time to get help on their side. That, more than anything, burned at his gut.
Finally having chopped his way through the brush, Shawn stood on an embankment overlooking the clearing. It wasn’t a large area by any means. However, compared to the state of the overgrown brush that encircled it, and given the fact that it was a flat meadow-ish appearing area devoid of trees and other things that would break up the flatness, it definitely struck him as being out of place and worth a look.
From his elevated vantage point, he could tell that it had been overtaken by weeds and other small brush. That was no surprise to him since he and Jack had been battling good-flora-gone-bad all morning. He would go so far as to say that this area had been reclaimed by brush fairly recently, as recently as this year, given the fairly small stature of some of the woodier weeds that had grown up and the lack of saplings wider than a pencil’s width.
He squinted further in deep concentration. Just underneath the cover he could almost make out distinct gridlines. Something had been planted there in rows.
Meaning that someone had planted something there in rows.
Given the fact that this area of the Los Padres was comprised of a few scattered private in-holdings, such as that of his mother’s family, surrounded by preserves and not typically considered tillable farmland, it struck Shawn as extremely suspect and worthy of a closer look.
Shawn glanced back and forth as if preparing to cross a busy intersection and zig-zagged between saplings and thorn bushes to make his way down the embankment and towards the wilted field.
Shawn hesitated for a moment as he prepared to enter the clearing. The moment quickly passed and he brushed off the concern—whoever had planted it had obviously left it to wither—they wouldn’t be back anytime soon, so it posed no immediate threat to them. Conversely, it also meant that there was no one nearby to question who might be able to help them narrow down their search.
Shawn finally arrived at the edge of the field with yet even more scratches to his collection.
He heard Jack come up behind him and shift back and forth nervously. However, Shawn found that he could easily ignore his impatient uncle for a few more minutes. There was something here; he could almost see it…
“I don’t mean to be a party killer, you know how much I love a good time, but I see no rocks out here Shawny boy.”
“Yeah, I know. There’s something else, though.”
“There is a whole lot of nothing and even more ass kicking heading our way if we don’t find what we’re looking for.”
Shawn quickly shifted his weight sideways and speared Jack with as much of a glare as he could muster. He shrugged it off and returned to his inspection of the overgrowth. Now that he was closer to the target, he found that he had lost his perspective. The irony of not being able to see the forest for the trees was not lost on him.
Deciding on a hands-on approach, he leaned forward and rested on one knee and began to sift through the weeds by hand. From his vantage point above, he could see clear evidence of rows of crops. However, now that he was here at hand, all he could see was masses of sticker weeds.
“There you are,” he mumbled under his breath. With renewed vigor, he began separating layers of branches and leaves until he revealed the tiny, shriveled, plant hidden underneath the tangled mass.
Shawn tugged on the stem of the plant. Its roots released easily from their pathetic hold on the ground. He held it in front of his face and twirled it between his fingers.
“Alright, my boy. Now we are talking!” Jack clapped him sharply on the back. “Now we can party it up in style.”
“How much do you want to bet that your friends have something to do with this?”
“I make no guesses about that; but if you want to stick around and ask them about their field of weed, be my guest.”
“No thanks. I have a feeling that they’re still hurting about the loss of their cash crop. I don’t think they’ll have too much of a sense of humor about it. But still…why have they switched to looking for rocks?”
“Because rocks don’t wilt and die in summers of 100+ degree temps and drought?”
“That’s fair,” Shawn conceded. “But I’m also thinking that Gabe and the boys are likely to be even more intent on finding whatever they’re looking for since they didn’t hit the big time with their little drug operation.”
“Well then” Jack paused, seemingly serious for the first time since they started out that morning. “I guess that we had better find what we’re looking for.”
Can You Hear Me Now? How Bout Now? Now? by SydneyWoo
To heartless skank taskmasters. You know who you are...
Late morning threatened to give way to noon. The sun was now high in the sky. Though the temperature was still moderate and not uncomfortable, Shawn nevertheless flapped the lapels of his jacket to fan himself off. There were no clouds overhead to shield them from the glare of the intensifying rays.
It was bad enough that he had forgotten his sunglasses. He made a futile attempt to use his hand as a visor. Not only did the action not really help, but his arm ached from trying to hold his hand up for so long. The pull strained across his shoulders and along his neck. What he wouldn’t’ give for a hot masseuse right now. A glance at his squinting uncle verified that he wasn’t the only one having difficulty making anything out. Small favors really were something for which to be thankful.
From the very edges of his side vision, he could just make out a blur followed by raging curses from Jack. Shawn barely had time to process his own actions before he found himself at his uncle’s side. Jack was doubled over with his knee pulled to his chest with one hand while the other rubbed over his toe.
Shawn quirked a smile and just drank it all in while taking in the scene.
“Laugh it up kid,” Jack muttered in between obscenities. “Good to know you’ve got my back.”
Shawn raised his hands in surrender. “Sorry Uncle Jack. You’re totally right. I can’t believe I didn’t warn you about that ginormous boulder completely blocking the path. Forgive me.” Shawn clasped his hands in supplication, then raised them with a mouthed ‘thank you’ to the heavens when Jack wasn’t looking.
Come to think of it, the ginormous boulder conveniently placed in the overgrown path was fairly odd and deserved a closer look.
“Excuse me,” Shawn muttered as he stepped completely over his still writhing uncle. He cocked his head sideways as he approached the boulder. They’d come across a few other boulders in their hunting this morning. So far, they had not seen anything that really struck them as noteworthy. Granted, Shawn could admit to himself, that they really had no basis for that gut feeling; he still had no clue why they were even looking for rocks in the first place, so how could he possibly judge one over another?
The boulder sat crosswise across the path. And by path he mostly meant the trail beaten down by Bambi and his cousins as they were trying to escape scary things that were trying to eat them. But what really niggled the most at the back of Shawn’s mind was the fact that this boulder didn’t look like any of the others here. It didn’t appear to belong as part of the natural landscape. He would almost go so far as to say that It appeared to have been dragged here.
Shawn gripped the end of his homemade walking stick a little tighter. With the end, he reached out and began poking around the vegetation that surrounded the boulder.
“What on earth are you doing?”
“You look like you’re poking.”
“As it so happens, I’m looking by poking, okay?” Shawn countered while continuing to dredge through the growth.
“What are you looking for?”
“I don’t know.”
“Fair enough. How will you know if you’ve found it?”
“Another good question. I don’t kn-” Shawn stopped suddenly as the end of his stick bounced off of something. He raised his eyebrows knowingly and quirked a smile. “I think I’ve found it!”
“You are on a roll, kid! What is it?”
Shawn opened his mouth as if to speak but paused to slowly sink to one knee. He then proceeded to jab harshly all around the area, identifying the general shape and area of whatever object was buried beneath the tangled vegetation. Very slowly—partly for show, partly simply because he couldn’t stand up easily—Shawn pulled himself up and wiped his hands on his pant legs. He leaned over to Jack and in a conspiratorial whisper said, “I don’t know.”
“I know, thanks. Also, I call dibbs on the finding which means that you get dibbs on the digging through the possible snake nest.” Shawn beamed brightly until he was sure that he emitted tooth sparkles that’d make Lyle Waggoner weep with envy.
After what felt like a five minute stare down, Jack finally relented, most likely unable to keep up his teeth-grinding grimace.
“Give me your stick, my boy,” Jack commanded with an outstretched hand.
“Yeah, I don’t think so.”
“I am not sticking my hands down in there.”
“I already scared away anything that’s most likely poisonous. It’ll be fine,” Shawn nodded towards the patch in question with his chin. “Go on.”
Jack’s feral glare returned as he sank to the ground and began gingerly pulling the plant matter from around the unidentified object.
The work was slow going as the mass of dead and live vegetation was deeply rooted. However, eventually Jack was able to free the object in question and pull it from the undergrowth.
“Is that it?” Shawn questioned.
“Apparently. Another perfect job of divination for you, aye me boy. Lovely stick that you’ve found,” Jack casually tossed it to Shawn and then settled down to sit cross-legged with his hands clasped around his knees.
Shawn reacted, catching the object in mid air. He twirled it lengthwise, slowly between his fingers, as his eyes scanned over every detail.
“Now that is interesting…”
** ** **
“This is ridiculous,” Henry pulled the ball cap from his head and scrubbed at his scalp in frustration. “Let’s just…sit down for a minute.”
“I hear that.”
Henry watched with a grimace as Gus pulled a handkerchief from his shirt pocket, draped it over a nearby log, and proceeded to sit down.
“You want to hear something, Gus?”
“Don’t you dare breathe a word of this to my family—I mean it—but I’m starting to regret the whole ‘no modern communications devices’ policy attached to our yearly excursions.” Henry squinted hard towards the overhead sun, shifting his gaze back down the path and then finally back to Gus—the same Gus who suddenly sat ramrod straight, intensely staring at the clouds.
“I didn’t say anything”
“You were thinking it.”
“No I certainly was not.”
“I didn’t say anything,” Gus wiped the sweat from his upper lip even as beads rolled from his forehead.
“Gu-us,” Henry pressed further
Gus tightened his lips and shifted further away. Henry had seen that move once if he’d seen it a thousand times played out nearly every Saturday morning at his kitchen table, which he had. He had him and he knew it.
“Where is it?”
“I don’t know what you’re talking about,” Gus denied even as his eyes betrayed him, looking everywhere but directly into Henry’s eyes.
“The phone, Gus. Where is it?”
“You must be out of your damn mind.”
“Give,” he barked.
Gus had his stubborn face on. Henry wasn’t the slightest bit intimidated. He’d seen Gus’ stubborn face before once if he’d seen it a thousand times. He’d let the kid think on it for a second; make him think that he’d won. After all, Henry didn’t manage to raise Shawn to a state of semi-adulthood without knowing how to stay ahead of the game.
“Tell you what, Gus. It’ll be our little secret. I won’t tell Shawn that you snuck in a contraband phone and you won’t tell Shawn about the snack cake.”
“I don’t haaaave a snack cake,” Gus whined.
Henry lowered his chin and leaned in conspiratorially. Though there was not a soul around for miles, still he spoke in a hushed voice. It was necessary for the final element of his plan.
“Do you want one?”
Simply too easy. He watched as Gus rolled up his pant leg to reveal a leather harness strapped around his calf holding not only a cell phone but a Leatherman tool as well.
Henry tipped his head, impressed—his fingers began dialing even before Gus had fully released the cell—that there just may be hope for Gus where he failed with Shawn.
** ** **
“Now that is interesting…” Shawn whispered to himself as he twirled the stick between his fingers. He and Jack had tromped on and been stabbed by hundreds of sticks since venturing into the deep woods. This stick, however, was in a class all its own. It wasn’t natural. Okay, it was natural in that it was made out of wood. Where all of the other sticks they’d come across today had fallen off of trees nearby, this one appeared to have come straight from a lumber yard.
Shawn blinked for a moment before realizing that he was lost in his own head again, which meant that he’d have to go through that entire discovery again for Uncle Jack’s benefit. Maybe just the bullet points.
“This. It’s got writing on it. It’s been milled and the end is pointed,” Shawn turned the stick so that Jack could observe for himself. “Which meant that someone put it in the ground for a reason. It didn’t just land here on its own.”
“I think we’ve been out here too long after you had your head smacked around last night.”
“Yes. And yes,” Shawn admitted truthfully. “But there is still definitely writing on this stick.”
“What does it say? Pray tell.”
“It says…‘I don’t know’”
“This isn’t funny anymore, kid”
“You’re right, of course,” Shawn apologized with a tone of sickening exaggeration. “The truth of the matter is, the special stick did not say ‘I don’t know’. Well, that’s not entirely true-” Shawn paused to think. “He could have said it. But to be honest, it’s really hard to make out just exactly what Mr. Stickypants here is actually saying. He’s all covered in dirt and I just can’t understand him while he’s talking with his mouth full. Plus, he mumbles…”
Jack full-on glared
“But,” Shawn quickly upraised a hand in mock concession and then continued, “I bet that Mr. Stickypants will feel a lot better after a bath and a hot meal. What say you that we head on down to the stream and clean him up?”
“Does the stick-“
“Mr. Stickypants” Shawn corrected.
“Does Mr. Stickypants realize that we’re supposed to be looking for rocks and rock formations?” Jack ground through clenched teeth.
“Well, he does now because you just told him. Before that, no, he did not. Remember this; Mr. Stickypants is not a psychic. He is but a humble, if mumbling, stick. I, on the other hand, am a professional and trained psychic detective and I am telling you that Mr. Stickypants is giving off some serious vibes.” Shawn thrust the stick in front of him and made it tremble for all that it was worth for added emphasis.
Jack raked his fingers through his hair and massaged his scalp. Shawn allowed him the moment, knowing that Jack was weighing his options and would arrive at the same conclusion that Shawn had; there were none.
“Fine,” Jack grunted as he pulled himself on his feet. With a quick raise of the fist, he shouted to the depths of the forest, “Onward ho, let’s go. Lead the way, Mr. Stickypants!”
“Sweet!” Shawn exclaimed as he mirrored the gesture, raising the stick high above his head.
This was high adventure. This was the making of epic tales of daring-do. Sure, it pulled at his ribs and his back screamed in annoyance. For the first time all day, Shawn knew that they were finally on to something. He could just feel it. Time was running short and they didn’t have long before they needed to make their way back to the cabin, and then back home with their tails tucked between their legs.
His ribs and his back could politely suck it.
“Hello? Who is this?”
Two seconds ago, Henry had the whole outline of this conversation planned out, in detail, to the word. He’d had plenty of time to think about it while he and Gus had scouted across creation to find this lone spot with a single bar of reception. In the microsecond after hearing the call connect and Madeline’s voice on the other end of the tenuous connection, all of his words left him.
It never failed. Once again, he was out of his element without a single idea of where to start all because of her voice.
“Hello?” She sounded tired. Her normally powerful timbre was muted with the strangles of morning. He felt bad for waking her up wherever she was. Maddie was always an early riser like he was. Given that, she was most likely overseas again where it was the middle of the night.
“Okay, this isn’t funny. I’m hanging up now-“
“Henry, is that you? What’s wrong?”
“Nothing,” he said quickly. “Nothing’s wrong. It’s been a while since we’ve talked…how are you?”
“Henry, it’s late.”
“Geez, I’m sorry. I didn’t think. The boys and I are up at the cabin this weekend and, well, I was thinking about you.” Henry ignored Gus’ eye roll.
“How is the old place holding up?”
“Good, good…Shawn helped me fix the roof. Everything else seems to be holding up well.”
“How is he coping, Henry?”
“Ah…he’s…” he paused to look at Gus. He couldn’t exactly ask his son’s friend to leave the room while they had a private chat. One, it wasn’t feasible being out the in middle of nowhere. Two, it wasn’t fair to Shawn to have this conversation in front of Gus without Shawn’s knowledge. Third, it wasn’t fair to Gus since Gus was also heavily involved in the events surrounding Yin. “He’s handling it his own way,” he replied lamely.
“While I have you on the phone, Maddie, I wanted to ask you a few questions about the old place.”
“I don’t know that I’m the one to talk to. You know this already since you’re the one acting as caretaker. You know more than I do.”
“I know all about the trust details but that’s not the kind of information I’m looking for.”
“Go on,” Maddie prodded.
“Do you remember your parents or grandparents talking about it at all? Any interesting stories?”
“Henry, it’s been a long time-”
“And for a lot of my childhood, we lived on the east coast and there was a lot of years where daddy and grandfather didn’t speak to each other…”
“I know, and I’m sorry, but if there’s anything that you can remember it would be helpful.”
“Are you sure everything is alright? You sound worried. Should I come out there?”
“No, no, there is nothing for you to worry about.” Henry lied smoothly as he turned his back to Gus and his arching eyebrows.
“I’m sorry. I’m trying to think, but I was only there two, maybe three, times as a little girl. Isabelle and I didn’t even spend much time in the cabin. We spent most of our time playing in the woods.”
“Excellent,” Henry’s interrogation skills kicked in on reflex. “What do you remember about that?”
“Trees, Henry. There were trees. There wasn’t a lot else to focus on. I’m sorry, Henry, but what is really going on? Where is Shawn?”
“Shawn is with Jack at the moment.”
“What is Jack doing there? Henry!”
“Back to the forest, Maddie, do you remember any peculiar rocks that come to mind?” Henry heard the rustle of fabric and easily pictured Maddie pulling herself up in bed to lean against the headboard, all hopes of going back to sleep firmly shot.
“I don’t. Again, this is ridiculous Henry. If you…wait…” Maddie paused on the other end of the line.
Henry held his breath and waited, patiently allowing her to search her memory.
“I remember the day we found the Indian chair. I don’t know if that’s actually what it was, but that’s what it looked like to us as children.”
“Can you describe it?”
“It’s been a long time…”
“I know…but just try. It could be important.”
“Okay,” she said slowly. “We were playing along the river one day and decided to explore along some of the steeper hills. In one of this hills, there was a big flat rock that stuck out from the hillside. It looked interesting, so we decided to get a closer look. It looked like someone had carved the rock to make a chair or a throne. We played Indian princesses all day while looking down on our kingdom. I haven’t thought about that in years.”
“That’s perfect, Maddie. And this was along the river by the steeper cliffs? Is that close to the bend with the small waterfall?”
“If I remember correctly…yes.”
“Excellent. I won’t keep you any longer so you can get back to sleep.”
“Henry, do you promise me that everything is okay?”
“I promise,” he assured. Almost as an afterthought, he spoke up again. “Oh…and Maddie, can you do me one last favor?”
“Thank you. If you don’t hear back from me by five o’clock tonight will you please call Detective Lassiter and give him directions to the cabin. I’ve got to go, love you. Bye-” He fumbled with the keypad and couldn’t locate the end key fast enough before hearing Maddie’s voice shout one last time through the earpiece.
This, Dear Children, Is What We Call 'a Problem'. by SydneyWoo
This update (and pretty much every update=) made possible by the
prodding hand holding encouragement of dragonnan.
She rocks like that.
Shawn was ever grateful to the cosmic forces that brought Mr. Stickypants into his circle of friends.
True, Mr. Stickypants wasn’t much of a conversationalist, but he was a hell of a good listener. Shawn held Mr. Stickypants out in front of him and fondly remembered his very first pet rock, Fluffy Hickenstock III. He and that rock went everywhere together; all along the boulevard, the corner gas station, pre-school, the therapist’s office. He sighed fondly, remember the pure disdain his dad had held for the rock. Jealous, that’s what he was.
And then he met Gus. Suddenly Fluffy was just a rock and was quickly released back to the wilds of the beachfront to join his hapless brothers. His new friend not only listened to every word that Shawn had to say, he even engaged back.
Not that Mr. Stickypants was a Gus substitute—Gus’ posture was way better and damn if he didn’t know how to coordinate colors—but what Mr. Stickypants allowed Shawn to do was to talk, and talk, and talk without having to engage Jack anymore than he had to.
Regardless of what his uncle may think, Shawn hadn’t really bonded with the stick. Please. Such bonding would take weeks, if not months. Plus, it was just a stick. How pathetic did Jack think that he was?
“I think that not only are you really pathetic but you are physically incapable of keeping a thought locked up in your head.”
Shawn quickly whirled around and hid the stick behind his back, adopting his signature stance. He likened it as a mix of James Dean, Duane Johnson, and Steve McQueen rolled up into a burrito of sweet hotness.
“So,” he droned. “How long have you been there.” He caught himself just before performing a patented Gus-like nose flick and resumed his arm crossed stance of epic coolness.
“Kid,” Jack pointed worriedly. “I’m starting to think that your dad was right all those years. There is something seriously disconnected in your brain. I’ve been here the whole time. I’m following you, remember? We’ve been out here for hours, remember? We’re running close to a deadline—is any of this ringing a bell?” Jack’s voice had reached to near manic levels and prompted him to shut off his rant and walk around in tight circles. He laced his fingers behind his head and took in deep breaths as he appeared to force himself to calmness.
Shawn clucked his tongue at the ridiculous notion that he would ever forget such a thing, huffing out a breath.
“Yeah, I knew that.”
If Jack doubted it, he never said anything. Instead, he merely made an ‘after you’ gesture.
Maybe it was a peace offering for some of the lesser thoughts against Jack that apparently he hadn’t kept to himself or maybe his uncle was just getting tired and cranky. Whatever, Shawn was grateful that he didn’t need to keep up the small talk and was allowed the option to save some face. He accepted the situation gratefully and chose to embrace it to the fullest.
“You heard the man. Let’s go, Mr Stickypants!”
Henry had terminated the call minutes ago but had yet to move an inch. He knew full well what was to come and, simply put, he just didn’t want to deal with it. He could feel Gus’ stare on the back of his head. Like focused laser beams of smug judgment boring into him.
Not that he was afraid. Please. This was Gus. It was just…uncomfortable. That, and Gus was a talker. The kid broke at the drop of a hat. There was no way on earth this would remain a secret between the two of them. Plus, there was the Gus look.
He remained there for a few more seconds of long and uncomfortable silence before he decided that they’d wasted too much time as it was. With that added motivation, Henry turned around and was greeted with the look just as expected.
“Mr. Spencer. I just wanted you to know…” Gus paused with what appeared to be great emotion brimming across his face. It took Henry back, just a bit, to see the depth of it displayed so openly. “Well, sir. It’s been an honor getting to know you all these years.”
Henry was speechless. Gus was a fine young man and a testament to his parents. Goodness knows that he owed him for keeping his son alive all these years. Truthfully, he loved Gus as if he were his own. If Shawn were here, he would have half a dozen smart comments about that so as it stood it was a good thing that it was just the two of them.
“Thank you Gus. That means a lot to me.” He tipped his head in respect to the frank admission.
“It’s okay,” Gus shrugged his shoulders. “I just wanted you to know. Because when we get back, she is gonna kill you dead. You know that, right? At least now, I won’t have that hanging over my head.”
The look was back, with all the years of Winnie Guster’s influence to back it up.
Henry sighed again and handed the phone back to Gus who in turn snatched it and haughtily turned his nose and marched off in the direction to which Henry had resignedly pointed.
Just a few more short hours of this. He’d repeat it as often as he needed.
They were nearing the stream, Shawn could hear as much. The water levels weren’t anywhere near normal for this time of year. As such, the sound of the moving waters were much more subdued than he remembered.
The terrain changed as they walked every nearer to the stream which was still out of sight. The redwoods were much denser in concentration and the ground became much rockier. That niggling feeling that they were on the right path continued to grow and Shawn felt his excitement levels raise another notch.
“I sincerely hope that you know where we are because I am completely turned around.”
“Of course I do. And even if I didn’t, we have an expert guide with us right here.” Shawn raised Mr. Stickypants in front of him with one hand and pointed at him with the other.
Jack was not amused.
“Don’t sweat it, Uncle Jack. The stream is straight ahead of us to the west and the cabin is to our south.”
“I am not too big enough to admit it, but I am impressed with your wilderness skills Shawny,” Jack stated with the grudging respect that only a Spencer could pull off.
“Yeah, well, dad used to bring me out here to play hide and seek. He’d walk me out to various points blindfolded, then he’d twirl me around a dozen times and tell me to count to a hundred before finding my way back. Did you know that I was in the fifth grade before I found out how the game was actually played? Crazy, right?”
“Henry is one of a kind.”
“That he is,” Shawn agreed letting the words trail off. He grinned as all previous thoughts of his dad’s twisted games vanished. “Well, will you look at that.”
Seeing his uncle’s confused expression, Shawn pointed up ahead just beyond where the trail appeared to vanish. He could make out the glittering of the water’s surface through the densely packed trees up ahead. They were so close now.
Plenty of time to wrap this thing up and beat his dad back with time to spare.
He gave Jack a playful smack on the shoulder and picked up the pace, feeling invigorated for the first time since they had arrived at this God forsaken patch of wilderness without snacks for Pete’s sake.
Who even does that?
Shawn decided to let it drop for the moment and put his focus back to the matter at hand. He stood at the edge of the stream and took a moment to gather his bearings. He knew enough to know about where he was, that wasn’t the issue. The issue now was to look at this land with fresh eyes and to see it from a different perspective.
He turned around slowly, taking it all in. Across the bank and to the south would take them back towards the cabin. Across the bank and to the north, the terrain became much more rugged and sharp. Looking behind him and to the left, he could see the beginnings of the geographical shift taking place. He tilted his head in curiosity and took a few steps closer to the point of his gaze.
When Jack had told him about rock formations, he truly had no idea what they could possibly be looking for. But now seeing the transformation of the landscape before him, he was just starting to scratch the surface of possibilities.
“What do you see?”
Shawn regarded Jack for a moment. He didn’t have anything concrete yet and wasn’t sure even if he did how much to divulge.
“Possibilities. I see possibilities.”
Shawn jogged ahead of Jack, ignoring his confusion, and moved to stand in front of a particularly jagged cliff face. He ran his hands over the edges, not sure what he was looking for but taking it all in just the same.
That niggling feeling was back. It was difficult to explain but if Gus were here, he would understand. It was the same feeling he got when he was 48% sure that he was on the right track to naming a killer.
He turned away from that cliff face and marched ahead to boulder five yards away at the stream’s edge.
Of course, the first killer that he named usually wasn’t the actual killer, and three times out of seven that person actually turned into a victim themselves, but that wasn’t the point. The point was, he was on to something and his brain knew it even if his brain wasn’t completely aware of what it had.
That meant that he was only three to five false assumptions away from having this thing totally figured out.
They’d totally be back in no time.
“Careful Gus, it’s pretty steep from here on out. If you turn an ankle, I’m not carrying you.”
Dead leaves and pine needles layered deep made for treacherous footing. Henry barely had time to react when he felt his foot slide out from underneath him. He scrambled to latch on to a nearby sapling and managed to right himself without injury.
“Careful Mr. Spencer,” Gus called out from behind him. “If you break a hip, I’m not carrying you.”
Henry took in a deep breath, biting down the comment. He would not rise to the bait. He would remain calm. He would not kill his brother. It had become a mantra over the past few hours.
Even as laid back of a soul as Gus was, there were times when he could be grating and irritable. One may have to wait days or even weeks to Shawn’s mere minutes in order to see it, but Gus did have his limits. Hell, Henry knew himself how irritated he was. The fact that Gus had held himself together this long was impressive. That didn’t make their situation any less irritating.
Henry’s head fell forward against his chest in resignation as he sighed. “Yes Gus.”
No answer came.
He waited another moment. Gus still had yet to say anything. Henry braced himself. The side of the hill on which they were standing was ridiculously steep, he wasn’t even remotely kidding. They couldn’t afford to be careless. For this reason, he carefully braced himself with one leg while slowly pivoting around.
From there, he was greeted once again with The Look.
In the interest of time, Henry decided to concede this once.
“Gus, I apologize for my attitude. What did you want to tell me?” He tried to force as much sincerity through his grated teeth as he could. He could tell by the slow ratcheting down of the eyebrow that it was working.
Gus raised his arm to point beyond Henry’s shoulder. “Over there. What is that on the other side of that ridge?”
Henry tried to follow the line of Gus’ sight. He squinted and scrunched and finally he caught a glimpse of something in the general direction of where Gus had indicated.
It took some effort and concentration on both of their parts to navigate the steep decline but as they made their way closer, their target became clearer until finally they were close enough to see it clearly.
“That’s it, Gus. I think that’s the chair that Maddie told me about.”
A chair was exactly what it appeared to be. A large slab of rock three feet wide and two feet deep jutted out from the side of the hill. In the middle, a deep indentation was clearly carved out to form a seat.
“Do you think this is what we’re looking for?”
“To be honest, Gus, I don’t know. It may not have anything to do with what we’re looking for. But it’s something. It’s the first thing we’ve found that actually stands out from its surroundings. That has to mean something.”
“Great, so we’re looking for other things that stand out, is that what you’re saying?”
“Pretty much, yes. Just …look around. See if you find anything else that doesn’t seem to belong. Besides us,” Henry rushed to clarify before Gus could raise his hand any further.
Shawn shook each of his feet vigorously, trying to get as much water out of his shoes as he could. He hated the feeling of squishy feet and hated his father’s voice in his head, berating him for his choice of non-waterproof footwear, just as much.
Regardless, he made his way over to the boulder that he so bravely crossed the stream to investigate, his shoes sloshing loudly with each step. His jeans were soaked up to the knees which would double his discomfort. Seriously, if there was anything as nasty as walking around in wet jeans, Shawn was hard pressed to think of it.
Turning his attention back to the boulder, Shawn squatted down to get a closer look. It had caught his eye because it was different from the other rocks and stones in this area. The rocks in the cliffs were whitish in color; the same for the rocks and large stones in and around the stream bed. This one, however, wasn’t anything like the others. Smooth, and gray, it looked like it had been arranged carefully. He peered quickly on all sides and tried to give it a shove. Surprisingly, it didn’t take too much effort to nudge it. This just proved to him that it wouldn’t have been difficult for someone to place it here.
He ran his hands around the perimeter. Just before he turned away, something caught the corner of his eye. He squinted, taking a closer look at the boulder’s surface.
“What on earth?” He muttered under his breath.
Taking up the cuff of his sleeve in his fingers, he brought his palm up to scrub at a peculiar spot of dirt.
His scrubbings began to reveal indentations carved into the rock.
The more he scrubbed, the more became revealed. The more became revealed, the more determined he became to scrub harder ignoring his abused muscles.
Shawn rocked back on his heels to admire his handiwork. He glanced back towards the stream where he had entered and where he had left Jack along the bank. It was empty.
He was still too excited about this discovery to waste too much energy on Jack’s whereabouts at the moment.
The numbers carved into the rock were the biggest puzzle to be solved. He wasn’t sure of their significance, but significant they were. That much he knew.
“Mr. Stickypants!” He suddenly remembered, looking around for where he had tossed the stick down. There had to be a connection between the writing on the stick and the carvings on the rock. That was simply too much coincidence to brush off as coincidence.
He grabbed the stick and headed straight for the stream where he proceeded to give Mr. Stickypants a good and proper bath. The water wasn’t deep enough to really submerge the stick properly—and what the heck, his shoes and jeans were already wet—so Shawn went all in and waded several feet from the bank.
It was hard and dedicated work, washing away the stubborn, caked on mud, and God-only-knew what else. Gradually the stuck on grime and sludge was wiped away. Each layer became progressively easier to remove until finally he was close to bare wood. It was still too dirty to discern specifics, but he could definitely make out numbers—similar to those carved into the rock—and letters.
The sound of crackling brush and footsteps caught his attention. He looked downstream to where Jack reappeared ten yards or so from where Shawn had originally left him.
He waved his arm high in the air and called out to his uncle. “Over here! You’ve got to see this!”
Shawn tracked Jack’s progress as he made his way closer to Shawn’s position before beginning his trek gingerly across the stream. For as disdainful as Jack appeared to be about walking through the water, Jack sure seemed to be taking the longer path. Which was fine; it certainly made things more amusing.
He wasn’t sure exactly what caused him to look down when he did or why his eyes suddenly tracked to the right. His feet carried him forward and his mouth opened to shout a warning to his uncle before his brain fully had a chance to process the sight of a metal chain snaking out from underneath the rocks on the other side of the shore and disappearing into the water in a trajectory heading straight for where Jack was heading.
“Jack stop! Get back!”
“Kid, what?” Jack shouted confused, but stopped all the same.
Shawn waved his arms madly trying to direct his uncle to step back. Any future warnings were cut off and forgotten as he stepped down and immediately felt something shift underneath his foot. Barely a second later, the water churned abruptly as something hard clamped around his ankle and held him in an unyielding grip.
Shawn couldn’t comprehend what had just happened. All he knew was a world of pain and the echoes of his own screams.
There's a Great, Big, Shiny, World of Hurt Out There Just Waiting to be Explored by SydneyWoo
For, quite possibly, the hundredth time since this adventure—and he used the word loosely—began, Henry bit down the feeling that they were in for a world of trouble.
All morning long, he had worked to calm himself and keep a cool head. By all rights, he and Gus still had some time to scout around before they headed back to the cabin. The electrified ants running laps underneath his skin did not understand or appreciate this simple fact.
Henry acknowledged the confusion in Gus’ question. “Let’s pack it in and make our way back.”
“I thought we had at least another hour. We might still find something.”
“We’ll keep our eyes open on the way. If you see anything that catches your eye, we’ll check it out.” He debated on how much of his concern to share with Gus. Given that Gus had always been strung a little on the tight side, he figured that he probably should keep this one close to the vest for a little while.
Even as they adjusted course, choosing the path that would direct them back, the feeling of ants intensified. He wasn’t one given to paranoia or premonition. Heaven forbid he ever share anything like this with Shawn—he’d never hear the end of it—but every nerve ending he had screamed at him to head back and start packing.
Then they’d be all ready to hike for it as soon as Shawn and Jack made their way back. Henry knew the only way to drown the ants involved getting his family back to safety.
Laying back a cold beer back in the warmth and safety of his own couch wouldn’t hurt either.
It had been hard enough to walk as it was, the rocks in the stream bed were uneven and slippery with algae. Now, even the simple act of standing was impossible and Shawn fell sideways into the water, jarring heavily on his hip.
There were very few—if any—times in Shawn Spencer’s life where he could be classified as ‘speechless’.
At this moment, he was incapable of forming words. He could feel incoherent groans bubble up and escape between his teeth—he couldn’t’ stop them if he tried. But words?
All he truly knew was white-hot pain that shorted out everything else. He couldn’t even be sure that he was breathing. He wasn’t really sure that he even cared.
There was something, though, niggling away at his subconscious. Something that forced him to pry open his eyelids, immediately causing them to water against the sudden onslaught of sunlight. Dancing pinpricks flashed in his field of vision and served to further disorient him.
He lacked the motivation to wipe away the streaming tears. To be certain, it was an annoyance which made the sun glaring overhead ten times brighter and more assaulting but it was hardly his greatest concern at the moment.
That strange compulsion overcame him again. Shawn looked up to see his uncle still rooted in the spot. He could only see the exaggerated movement of Jack’s lips yelling what appeared to be his name for all he was worth.
It should probably worry him that he couldn’t hear it. He should hear it. It looked like Jack was screaming to the rafters, bulging neck veins and red-faced.
Shawn whined through clenched lips, reaching towards his ankle with a trembling hand. He could barely muster the motor control he needed to stay upright. And while he couldn’t see exactly what had gripped him underneath the murky water, still churning with silt, he had a pretty fair idea.
“Come on, kid. Say something!” Jack pleaded.
Shawn heard that and immediately felt his anxiety levels lessen just the slightest bit. So he was capable of hearing on some level. That was something…
He opened his mouth but could only muster a guttural “gnuuuhhhh” in reply.
“Don’t move, I’m coming over there.” Jack looked desperately around him before backtracking his steps towards shore, apparently not wishing to try his luck against any more surprises lurking underwater.
Shawn ignored the ridiculousness of the command, choosing instead to investigate whatever had him trapped. Shaky fingers delicately ran down the length of his ankle until they hit a cold, hard, edge that was apparently hard-wired directly into his nervous system.
Any gains on his levels of control quickly vanished. He hissed loud and long as his eyes watered relentlessly.
“Geez, kid, what on earth…” Jack’s question trailed off as his eyes followed the length of the chain where it disappeared underwater.
We’ll pack light. Gather what food left that can be eaten without having to cook. I’ll need to fill the canteens and pack bedrolls. We need to stay mobile and hike out on foot.
Jack mentioned a car. We need to try and find it since dad will have trouble with the hike, but what if the car is immobile? We need to consider it a possibility.
I know how long it takes to get here by car, but how long will it reasonably take on foot? Dad will slow us down but that can’t be avoided. Unless we make an immediate trek for the ranger station…
Henry had tried to ignore Gus’ questioning. Not that he didn’t want to listen, but Gus had that tone of voice from when he was in fifth grade “Mr. Spencer…can I use your bathroom?”
Frankly, Henry had too much on his mind and he simply didn’t have time for this. He whirled around, exasperated.
“Can we please slow down?” Gus begged, hunched over with his hands on his knees, gasping for breath.
Henry stood shocked. Gus was red in the face and heaving in breaths. Henry turned back around to take in their position, only then realizing the clipping pace he must have set in order to make it thus far so quickly.
His cheeks burned hotly as tiny flames of guilt licked just underneath the surface of his concern. The fire ants were back in full force, gnawing away just underneath his skin.
“Is there-” Gus gasped. “-something you’d like to tell me?”
They were so close to the cabin that it was a shame to stop now. Henry’s gaze shifted back and forth between the trail and Gus. Worry continued to nibble away at his resolve and he wondered, not for the first time, if he too wasn’t just as desperate as his son to run away from unseen evils.
It would explain the rising tides of panic he felt growing exponentially over the past few days.
Gus could be trusted—he knew that—as a non-judgmental keeper of secrets. Goodness knows the secrets he’d been hiding for Shawn all these years. But this was different. He felt, not weak, perhaps squeamish…of using Gus as a confidante. They were on different levels, after all; not better, not worse. It just went against the nature of things in Henry’s worldview. There were some things that were just meant to be shared upwards among the ages. The younger is supposed to seek counsel from the older—that’s just the way it was. Anything else just felt…odd.
Then again, he’d always said that Gus was a young man beyond his years.
Besides, his only other choices were Shawn, his brother, and his father. His pickings were slim at best.
“Can you walk at all?”
The sheer stupidness of the question shocked Shawn out of his agony.
“What on earth kind of question is that?!”
Affronted, Jack sputtered “Well, can you?”
Jack ran a hand through his hair with the other braced against his hip. “Okay, think Jack…”
“I think…it’s a trap…” Shawn continued his slow and gentle exploration of the underwater device attached to his ankle.
He rolled his eyes as Jack whirled around, looking for anyone who might jump out from behind the bushes.
“Not that kind of trap,” he clarified. Idiot.
“Right. I knew that. What do you suggest?”
“Margaritas,” Shawn countered as his fingertips trailed along the outside edge of the device, noting the smooth length of metal. “A warm beach,” along the inside, he could feel serrations. “Models. Preferably Swedish,” he winced feeling where a particularly sharp tooth embedded into his skin. “Oh yeah…and a little help.”
His foot slipped off of the rock on which he was braced. He choked off a scream as the renewed agony flared up along the length of his leg. The pain levels that had reduced to an eight now escalated back up to double digits, times three, carry the one.
He yelled and cursed and raged against the system, kittens, NBC for canceling Misfits of Science before its time.
“Breathe, Shawny! Just breathe, okay?” Jack tried to encourage as he held out his hands looking for all the world like a third base coach, save for his eyes bulged in near absolute panic. His thin voice suggested that he could stand to use his own advice.
Shawn nodded weakly, struggling to regain his composure.
“Maybe-” he choked off as his throat constricted against his will. He gasped, forcing the words. “Maybe if you come over here, between the two of us we can get this thing off…”
“Look, kid, I promise you …I’m gonna make this right, okay. You’ve got to believe me.”
Shawn was confused, at first, by Jack’s words. As his uncle began to back away from the stream, his intentions became all too clear.
“Uncle Jack, come on. I know we can do this,” he begged. Nausea threatened to overwhelm him as blackness hovered just outside the periphery of his vision.
Jack merely pointed at him before turning away, calling out over his shoulder. “I promise. I’ll be back. I’m going to get help and I’ll be back.”
“Jack!” He cried out to the retreating figure as he disappeared into the brush.
All By Myself... Don't Wanna Be All By Myself... in a River... with a Freaking Trap on My Leg... by SydneyWoo
So SydneyWoo and I were chatting about this fic again - as we do. And then, abruptly, she thrust the thing at me with a wild cackle and darted back into the woods. Distantly, i heard the sound of deep howls.... All that to say, I have been, somewhat violently, harnessed as a secondary author! I hope I do justice to this magnificent adventure!
It was cold.
In the way that mountain streams in early afternoon were cold – even in the dead center of summertime when the lower altitudes called for shorts and tank tops. But, for all that, it was also beautiful. Without any rude commotion, to echo across the peaks, various tidbits of wildlife had begun to return to the... glen? Hollow? There needed to be a ruling on that and, if need be, an executive decision. Glen sounded more charming whereas “hollow” brought to mind Headless Horsemen and things were unpleasant enough without adding an out of season pumpkin killer.
Shawn blinked. Shivering hard enough to raise ripples around his slumped form, he was bemused at his current level of sleepiness. Two painfully wide awake nights in a warm cabin with a crackling fire; drop him in a freezing river with the jaws of life clamped to his leg and he drifts off like Gus during a sugar crash.
At least his phone was dry – safe and sound on the counter next to the half full box of Lucky Charms. At his apartment. Back in the modern world.
God, he could go for some Lucky Charms.
Tongue licked across teeth. Felt like five years since he'd eaten that hunk of toast and oily can of sausages. Normally stomach turning fare, he'd give his right foot for one more can of Vienna's finest mini links.
The birds had stopped chirping.
To the right, where Jack had vanished, the bank was mostly smaller rocks and gravel barely higher than the river. A gentle grade led away from the water, broken up by smaller brush and wind stripped stumps, until tall grass cut off the remaining view. On the left, smooth river rocks heaped up the bank, from the water's edge, roughly twenty feet before meeting a wall of tangled green. The green shook.
Dry throat locked tight and Shawn sank even lower in the water – ankle sending up a hot zing of electricity all the way to his brain where it fired across raw tissue and ground a moan past his clenched teeth. Tiny ripples lapped at his chin as he fixed on the shaking leaves. Were there bears this high up? Gus would know. Or maybe a cougar or... “Oh, G-God, d-d-don't be rac-c-coons...” hissed between chattering teeth.
There was one second to suck back a single breath, and with a roar, the beast launched itself past he final, vegetative, barrier.
He'd ridden the Tully rapids in Australia – backpacked across the volcanos in Guatemala. Carving a path through the underbrush of his extended family's acreage, however, was proving to be more difficult than the three days he'd been lost in the Ecuadorian rainforest.
Branches had whipped across his face and eyes – leaving him with scratches, welts, and streaming tears. At one point he'd blundered across a cloud of biting gnats and had spent over ten minutes swatting the near invisible pests from his skin.
Jack stopped beside a downed redwood – the deceased giant making a passable ledge to prop his arms and catch his breath. Half an hour since he'd left the river. He felt awful – leaving Shawny like that. Still, the kid was tough beneath that layer of bellyaching. And he was going to be fine – probably already waded back to shore by now.
His car was just one more valley away – parked about fifteen feet off the main road and just before the path became four wheel drive only. He could get there in an hour if he really pushed it. Maybe two.
It was all going to work out just fine.
The younger men had all been gone for close to two hours – leaving the eldest Spencer alone in his in-law's cabin. Not the most elegant of structures but, at the very least, it was functional. Single, large room, gas appliances, and a modified folding table that someone, once upon a time, had dressed up with a row of wooden planks they'd taken the time to sand and stain. Mismatched wooden chairs sat around it – the old man resting in one of them while he caught his breath. Still stank of day old stew from that travesty the night before. Made his blood boil; though it wasn't the remnants of beef and potatoes, still crushed between the floorboards, that were on his mind. Those hooligans were lucky he and Henry weren't allowed a fair fight. Between the two of them, they'd have mopped the floor with those characters! Well... Henry would have, were he truly honest. Shawny and young Guster would probably have done a fair job, too – his nephew was as scrappy as he'd been, back in his youth. And then there was Jack. From the outside it'd seem he had nothing in common with the boy – other than his name. Still... Jack was more like him than Henry had ever been.
Fingers, knuckles thick and nails yellowed and peeling, brushed across his lips as he stared somewhere to the left of the toaster. He hadn't spoken to his youngest boy in many years. Henry and his brother had never really seen eye to eye. However, things had clearly worsened, between them, in recent years. While Henry hadn't divulged any details, Jack Sr. had overheard enough to know that his namesake had done something that had endangered Shawn; unforgivable as far as Henry was concerned.
The chair creaked like old leather as he pushed away from the table. He'd gotten most of their things packed up and lined near the door for whenever the others returned. Although, with the damage done to the truck tires, who knew if they'd be able to leave at all?
“Sons of bitches...” He fished a mug out from under the edge of the counter; forgotten from the earlier cleaning. The handle had broken clean off the side – a long crack ran from a chip at the rim all the way across the base. There was nothing, particularly, special about it. One of the many oddball pieces that had found their way to the cabin through the years. But, as he'd often said, it was the principle of the thing. And suddenly he was furious. Fingertips pale white on the ceramic, he hurled it across the room where it smashed beneath the ancient deer head. What had Shawn named that thing? Alphonse? Alonzo?
He'd need to sweep that up before someone stepped on a shard but, at that moment, he couldn't dredge up the ambition to do so.
It was frustrating, being old. Just this bit of clean up had left him winded and sweating. He could feel the tremble in his hands from that burst of outrage.
A little after 10, now, by his watch. In another hour he could start getting lunch ready. There was enough bread left for sandwiches, and, thankfully, the cheese and cold cuts had been spared the trashing of their stores. If need be, there were quite a lot of canned goods in the storage pit beneath the floor. However, things would need to be pretty dire before they dug through that fare.
Needing some fresh air and fresh surroundings, the elder Jack clumped back across the floor. He slowed, only a moment, near the doormat. Then, heaving out a long breath, he exited into the yard.
Birds that had tentatively returned to the clearing, why hadn't he thought of clearing before? that was way better than glen, exploded from the trees and shrubbery at the terrified, eardrum shattering, screams.
“Shawn what the hell are you doing!?”
Water sloshed upward in a thin sheet – frozen, trembling limbs that had curled over his head, lowered in stiff increments until he could stare across the water towards the “terrifying beast” standing on the shore – face red and sweaty and holding hands over ears that were, no doubt, bleeding profusely.
Before an explanation could tumble free, the bushes shook again – this time dispensing a single Gus – swiping viciously at the invisible crickets he seemed to think were coating his body.
He wanted to hug his friend – leech some of that toasty sun warmed best friend to take the chill out of his icy body. As it was, standing was well beyond him, now, and he could only stare, envious, at the sweat beads rolling down his friend's shiny scalp.
“Shawn!” At least he could enjoy the metaphorical warmth at the concern Gus had for his well-being. It was a delicate balance, their friendship. He put himself in danger and Gus fretted over him and provided moral support along with financial backing. It was a rare and wonderful thing, their bond, and rarely seen outside of mountain gorillas.
“Are you kidding me right now? Your dad and I have been busting out butts trying to find these so-called “magic rocks” and you decide to go a few laps to cool off?”
His grin, floating half an inch over the gleaming water, melted into a hurt pout that reflected rings of frowning ripples. “D-dude, why the hell would I go swimming f-f-fully dressed?”
“Because the water's cold.” Gus crossed his arms – full deflection mode engaged.
“That d-doesn't make any sense!”
“You don't make sense!”
Shawn bit one side of his lip between his teeth. “Point t-t-taken.”
Dad, having rolled his eyes at their bickering, made his way along the edge of the water to where the shallows provided easier crossing.
“Careful, Pops! You only have t-two hips!”
“Funny, kid.” Dad, though, managed his journey with only a soaking to one cuff when a stone turned under his foot. Eyes on the ground, he made his way until he reached the thing he'd clearly spotted while still on the opposite bank. A thin length of chain that disappeared beneath the water – running straight to Shawn.
Lifting his face back to his son, Henry jerked his chin. “Which leg?”
Count on dad to spoil the fun with returning reality to the situation. “Right one.”
Shawn's fingers skated across the metal once more; curling away at the... revulsion... of the alien thing clamped to his limb.
A splash brought his head up fast. “Wait – stop! There c-could be another one and if it c-comes d-d-down to one of us being rescued, I got first d-dibs!”
No use as his father bullied his way into the water – pushing a minor pressure wave ahead of him that rippled wavelets against Shawn's cheeks. He spat and lifted his head a bit more; face tight as he watched the water rise, first to his dad's knees – then to his waist.
“You know, you're g-gonna have to hike the whole way b-back with wet un-undies.”
His dad stumbled a little as the rocky bed shifted beneath his feet. “Don't worry about it.”
“I'm n-not worried about it. I'm not the one pushing e-eighty... wait... G-God please d-d-don't tell me you're g-going command-do!” Shawn flinched as his father dropped to eye level – hands feeling for his leg.
“Woah – hey! P-personal space!”
“Just hold still, Shawn.” Fingers followed the seam of his jeans – touch light but Shawn still squirmed at the sensation. The probing encountered metal invading flesh and Shawn yelped – jerking hard enough that his head plunged underwater. An arm behind his shoulders lifted him out again – all sputtering and chattering teeth.
“Gus!” Shawn winced at the bellow in his ear. Still on the bank, Gus crossed his arms. “No way! These shoes aren't waterproof!” He violently began shaking his head.
Gaping at his friend, Shawn spared one hand to slap it indignantly in the water. “Dude! I have a freaking trap on m-my leg!”
“Nope! No way, Shawn!” Repeating nopes and no ways – refusing to look their way until...
Defiance melted under the Henry Spencer heat gaze. Tsking; lip pouting out; Gus cleared a spot on a largish boulder for his...
“Are you kidding me?? You h-had a phone??”
Ignoring the sputters, he toed his way back and forth along the edge – not quite committing to any of the, literally, billions of entry points available to him.
“GUS!” With the combined shout of both Henry and Shawn, Gus finally squeezed his eyes tight, clenched his teeth, and waded forward. The tremble of whimpers was a soothing, familiar sound and Shawn actually felt himself relax a smidgen. It took the better part of ten minutes for Gus to navigate to the rest of the group – his journey compounded by loose stones, the gentle current, and something that “felt like a snake”. Once there, though, he gave Shawn a glare that could burn right through a sheet of extremely flammable paper.
Shawn rolled his eyes. “Fine, I owe you n-new shoes!”
Gus snuffed. “I spent ninety-five dollars, online, Shawn. I had to spend another fifteen on socks I didn't even need in order to get the free shipping!”
“Wait, so n-now I owe you s-socks, too?”
“Boys, enough!” Henry was three for three on his cowing bellows – a sucktackular reminder that Shawn was still attached to the river and not in some kinda Tom Skerritt kinda way, either. He actually wasn't sure which way was worse...
Body sunk to the shoulders next to his son, Henry flicked two fingers in a “come'ere” gesture towards Gus.
“I need you to push down on the release plate on your side when I give the signal.”
Shawn gulped. “Ah... I h-have a suggestion...” A lot of nothing followed his shaky start. Of course, he didn't have a follow up to his shaky start – not that dad was giving him much wiggle room.
“Son, your lips are blue.”
Well, clearly! He'd only been soaking it up for the better part of an hour, now! All things being all things, though, he wasn't prepared for the torment his father had planned – which was far and away a greater form of torment than the old man typically brought to bat.
The fingers of one hand curled into a fist in Gus's shirt while the other hand curled around his father's late 70's classic pink button up. Sorry, “salmon” colored 70's classic button up.
“Gus, you ready?”
Shawn tightened his grip. “No.”
His father grunted as he bent his knees – sinking to chin level in the water. “You aren't Gus.” He lifted his eyebrows towards the other man and Gus nodded – his own eyes wide and mouth open – panting.
There was no count of three or even “ready, set, go” - just a nod from dad and then-
“AAAAAAAAAAAAAAAH!!! STOP, STOP, STOP, STOOOP!”
His head was underwater again – a flush of fire blazing along his sinuses where he'd snuffled a lungful of the liquid turned acid. Nothing, though, against the raging agony chewing through shin bone – straight into his central nervous system.
It was dad who hauled him up again – Gus on his left side and floundering himself after Shawn's flying elbow had leveled him.
The cold of the river was no longer relevant with the new level of pain trembling up and down and up again – a living thing pounding a sharp beat all the way to his hip. He was locked stiff – his shouts cut off and swollen beneath his collar bone. But, he still heard one thing above all else. His father's voice, soft – nearly soothing in its gentle tone.
Holy Cats - FOUR YEARS!!! (I honestly thought it had been longer, actually...)
I can only apologize PROFUSELY!!! Both for the long wait as well as for the fact that I'm still struggling with getting back into writing Psych. I unfortunately can't make promises for when the next update will happen after this but I said a looong time ago that I don't plan to abandon these stories and that still holds true even if my funk is a long one.
Anyway, all that business aside I am so thrilled to FINALLY offer you this next loooong awaited chapter!!
FYI this one is 100% for Emachinescat who had mentioned this story in a Tumblr post - which heavily motivated me to get this chapter completed!
“Hold on, hold on – what the hell d-do you mean by d-d-dammit?”
Henry scrubbed three fingers across his scalp. He was still supporting Shawn's weight, though Guster had stumbled back several feet when Shawn had begun howling – a hand cupping his sore jaw. Just as well since their attempt had been a disaster. No telling how long the trap had sat there; a short enough time that the mechanism had still snapped shut on Shawn's leg but long enough that rust and corrosion had locked it there once it was sprung.
They couldn't remove it.
Certainly not like this – underwater and no clear visual on what they were dealing with. And any attempt meant torture for his son. They had to get Shawn out of the river; fast, too. Henry had only spent about ten minutes sloshing around but already his limbs felt stiff and a chill was raising gooseflesh along his arms.
“Gus, get over here and hold up Shawn.”
“I am p-perfectly c-c-c-capable o-of holding m-m-myself u-u-u...”
“Kid, you can't even hold a conversation right now.” Henry pushed his soggy load into Guster's arms – mindful of the whimpers yet knowing that, in spite of his injury, his son would milk this as much as he could. Not for the first time he wondered how much of a pain in the ass Shawn would be if he ever got shot.
While the two friends resumed bickering – something about Shawn's soaking wet weight versus his boneless weight as well as a complaint from Guster about his rhomboideus major – Henry ducked beneath the surface. Ice cold drilled through his temples – immediately strengthening the headache that this whole trip had set into motion just a few days prior.
If there was anything positive about any of this, it was that the water was amazingly clear. The current distorted his view, somewhat, but he could still evaluate the situation.
In his immediate sight line was Shawn's pant leg. About five inches up from his cuff, a half circle of jagged metal was clamped tight – tearing through the denim but with no visible blood. No surprise what with the way the points were embedded and the moving water would have cleared most of what had seeped through. Much as the thought seemed callous, Shawn's leg wasn't what mattered in that moment. Rather, Henry followed the edge of the trap where it attached to a heavy chain. The chain that belonged to the trap was only a couple of feet long – ending with a thick ring. However, someone had added an extra length of chain to the original – one that led off for several yards and, from Henry's earlier observation – disappeared into the brush along the riverbank. Worse – every few feet, pegs had been driven into the riverbed – attaching the chain to the bottom. There was no way to pull it free that way. However...
Gasping as he pushed past the surface, Henry swiped at his eyes – noting that the two boys had now moved on to a debate about Dr. Pepper and Mr. Pib and what sort of doctorate a soda could carry. He should have just stayed under...
Taking a few seconds to suck in breaths, letting the other two cycle through topics, Henry tapped Shawn's shoulder with a couple of fingers. “I think I can get this. You may feel the chain pull a little but try to hold still.”
He sucked in a deep breath and was about to dunk under when Shawn snagged his sleeve with one hand – his jaw trembling violently from the cold.
“I-is this... this s-something I w-will have to re-report to c-c-child services?”
Henry rolled his eyes, took in another breath, and let himself sink.
Following the chain back to the end, he slid his hands along the length until he found the join once more. First bit of luck was that the idiot who'd placed the trap had chosen to attach it to the chain with a lifting hook. Although the closing mechanism had been welded to the main body of the hook – the device was thin enough that he might be able to break it.
Though his lungs were already starting to ache, Henry moved one hand across the river bottom until he found just the right shape for the job. Turning the hook weld side up – he rested it against a large rock. In the other hand he gripped another rock that had a smooth, narrowed head – almost like a rounded axe. Hard as he could, he swung at the hook.
Sound was strange underwater – each strike made a pitchy metallic “ting” as he slammed stone against stubborn weld. He was at the burning stage in his chest when, abruptly, the weld gave. Yanking the trap's ring from the hook, he shoved himself back to the surface – gasping even harder than last time and coughing through heaving lungfuls of icy oxygen.
“Dad! Holy c-crap, are you o-okay?”
He'd surfaced right next to Shawn and Gus – yanking genuine concern and a rough startle from his son at the sudden breach.
Spitting the water that ran across his lips, Henry rubbed a cold pebbled arm across his face – clearing it well enough – before bypassing the question with action.
“Come on – Gus, hold him steady while I lift his right leg. Sorry kid but you're gonna have to hop until we get you to dry land.” Really no need to point out how badly this was going to hurt – one glance at Shawn caught that awareness in his kid's tight jaw.
It was a miserable journey – stumbling those fifteen yards back to shore. Shawn would bitch about a hangnail for days – had used the excuse as a reason to skip school – work – hell, he'd tried it last week to avoid this weekend. But real injuries... When Shawn was thirteen, he'd cracked two ribs doing a backflip off of the deck. It had taken three hours before he'd finally confessed – under interrogation. For the ten minutes it took to get Shawn to shore, he never stopped whimpering – tiny cries seeping between his teeth.
Once out of the river, Henry had found a somewhat smooth patch of grass for Shawn to lie down while he'd dug free his Swiss and made for a stand of thin aspen trees. An hour of work and the sacrifice of his outer shirt later and he had a serviceable litter.
With Gus at the back, Henry took point – the pole in each hand already digging into his palms. There hadn't been enough shirt left, though, to wrap the rough wood so he shelved his exhaustion and started them back towards the cabin.
At his back, Shawn and Gus had picked up their conversation and Henry let the prattle move him forward – aching step by aching step. Every hill down was a pull at his lower back and knees. Every climb up dug knives into his shoulders and thigh muscles. Between the weary chatter, he heard every time Shawn's breath caught – every time he gasped or – worse – became stone silent mid-word.
It was two hours of hiking – even on the straightest route he could plot. They smelled woodsmoke before they spotted the cabin through the redwoods. Gus was at the babbling point, but Henry still pushed him the last few yards – coming through the back yard and, finally, resting Shawn down on the deck beneath the shade of the overhang. Gramps had spotted them and bustled out while Gus was in the middle of cracking his back.
“My God; what happened?”
Henry rubbed his aching, blistered hands, ignoring the older man, who'd pulled one of the deck chairs up close to sit next to Shawn.
“Gus, we need water, towels, blankets, and the first aid kit from cabinet next to the fridge.” While Gus stumbled inside, Henry knelt beside Shawn's legs, knife in hand, once more.
Shawn flinched while he was still four feet away. “You aren't taking my leg!”
Henry was amazed there wasn't, yet, a divot in his forehead from all of the times he'd rubbed it that weekend. “Shawn...”
“Don't be an idiot.” His father finished the well-used phrase and Henry nearly chuckled; until...
“If your Pop plans to cut off your leg, he'll use the axe.”
He really was going to wear a groove into his skull at this rate.
Gus was, actually, a welcome interruption – lips still dripping from the water he'd guzzled before coming back with the requested supplies. He handed one water bottle to Shawn and the other to Henry – both of them cracking off the plastic caps and drinking them down – Shawn choking on the final swallow and getting a back wallop from his Gramps.
Thirst tamped down, Henry flipped open the primary blade on his Swiss and leaned in – carefully lifting Shawn's pant leg away from his skin so he could begin cutting at the denim. He removed a section from just below Shawn's knee down to about an inch above where the trap pinned the remaining material. With the heavy fabric out of the way, Henry was able to get a better look at what they were dealing with.
“Gus...” Henry looked up – noting the glassy look in the young man's eyes. “Gus!”
Pasty expression swung away from the mangled leg of his best friend – the hard swallow pushing back that morning's breakfast. “Uh huh?”
Henry pointed towards the front of the cabin. “There's a tool chest under the back seat of the truck. I need you to get it for me.” Before Guster's eyes could swing back to his friend, Henry reached forward and smacked him in the leg – getting a jump and high-pitched yelp before Gus headed around the cabin – a venomous scowl sent Henry's way before the young man vanished from sight.
Gramps had rolled one blanket and positioned it beneath Shawn's head. In spite of the miserable breakfast, none of them were hungry and the sandwiches the old man had provided were only picked at. Nothing left to do, for the moment, Henry shifted to one hip and wiped his hands on his legs – eyes on the surrounding forest.
“I don't suppose you've seen Jack.”
“Nope.” Nothing followed the single word reply – not that Henry thought it would. One of the few things he had in common with his father, other than his hairline, was getting right to the point in conversation. And then there was Shawn.
“You know, there's nothing I like better than a tense family discussion filled with awkward pauses... But, seeing as I'm kinda... trapped... between the two of you...”
Henry wiped both hands down his face.
Gus, once again, came to his rescue – arms loaded down with the large toolbox and half a sandwich sticking out of his mouth. Letting the box hit the deck with a rattling THUD, he stuffed the rest of the sandwich in his mouth before snatching a second from the plate next to Gramps.
“Seriously, man? Just gonna chow down while I'm lying here developing lockjaw.”
Gus snorted while Henry began digging through the mix of tools. “Lockjaw? Not likely. I made sure you got your booster shots when we signed on for that Daredevil job.”
Shawn frowned. “I don't remember that...”
Grabbing another sandwich, Gus dropped down on Shawn's right side. “You were eating a Snickers at the time.” Rather than bite into his third wedge, he passed the sandwich to Shawn. Hands stilled, within the toolbox, Henry watched in his peripheral until he saw his son bite off a corner and begin chewing. Then, shoving aside wrenches, four boxes of roofing nails, and collection of electric screwdriver bits, he finally found what he'd been digging for. However, he waited until Shawn finished a second sandwich (and Gus a third) before bringing attention back to the steel jawed elephant among them.
“Dad, I need you for a minute.” Options weighed between two iffy choices. While Gus was younger and had, allegedly, greater upper body strength, he also had the fortitude of a sock puppet. Besides, Gus was much better suited for keeping Shawn distracted.
Several grunts lifted the elderly man from his seat – his walk across the deck more of a shuffle. Not for the first time, Henry was realizing his father wasn't the tough man from his youth – nor the older but still viable presence from a decade ago. It had nagged in his brain, before he'd even begun packing for this trip, that, next year, there would probably be only two Spencer men visiting the cabin.
With a short groan, Gramps knelt opposite Henry – both of them hovering over Shawn's ankle. Shawn squinted at them both.
“I'll have you know I'm willing to offer bribes if you promise to let me eat an entire bottle of baby aspirin before you go all Perry Cox.”
Wordlessly Gus held out four pills which Shawn swallowed dry.” Ugh – tastes like nail polish remover. What was that?”
“Okay, first, I don't even want to imagine why you'd know what acetone tastes like. Second, that was Tylenol.”
Shawn's nose wrinkled. “Alright, A, I don't know what acetone is and, Dos, you couldn't have given me that twenty minutes ago?”
Ignoring him, Henry pulled aside a shredded flap of denim to expose the hinge of the trap. The first thing of note was that it was a much older model than the style of traps Henry was used to encountering in the woods. Rusted a dull reddish brown and flaking bits of corruption, it was clear the thing was well past its expiration date. Two, flat, spring levers jutted out from either side while the jaws clamped into Shawn's leg about four inches above his ankle. It was unlikely the bone was broken but it was possible there was a fracture. Granted, Henry was no doctor so there was no way to know for certain. And none of that truly mattered as much as getting the damn thing off in the first place.
Henry sighed and looked up at his father. “Okay, first we need to get him into a chair. We've got no leverage at this angle. Gus...”
“On it.” Already up and heading into the cabin, Gus reappeared moments later dragging one of the kitchen chairs across the deck. He spent several seconds fussing about placement – Shawn offering helpful tips, until Henry stood and pulled the chair from his grip and set it near his son. Then, with Gus's help, the two of them reached down and heaved a gasping and moaning Shawn to one foot while Gramps steadied the trapped leg. Once Shawn was in the chair, he hunched forward and swallowed rough for a few seconds.
“Guuug... think I'm gonna see those sandwiches again soon.”
“Not while I'm standing here.” Gus groused.
Grabbing the items he'd set aside from the toolbox, earlier, Henry produced a heavy-duty wrench and long vice grip. He handed the vice grip to his father while retaining the screwdriver. “Okay, Dad, slide that between the jaws right next to the ankle. I'll do the same on my side. When I tell you to, I want you to push forwards while I pull back. Hopefully we can force the jaws apart.”
Face, once more, losing a few shades, Gus swallowed. “Uh, what do you want me to do?”
Henry considered, just briefly, before recognizing there were few options. “Okay, what you can do is place your foot on the spring lever on your side – there's less rust so hopefully that means it's looser. When we start pushing I want you to push down with as much force as possible.”
Gus swallowed and nodded. As for Shawn, he had fallen silent – eyes closed tight and both hands gripped on the arms of the chair.
Taking in a breath, very aware that this was going to hurt, a lot, Henry silently nodded towards his father. Then, in a countdown from three, two, one...
He was pretty sure that his blisters had developed blisters by the time Jack muscled his way through the last wall of vegetation surrounding the clearing where, thank God, his car was still parked.
He was certain that, by now, Henry had found Shawn and gotten the kid back to the cabin. So certain, actually, that he found himself with some important choices.
Gabe and his partners were assholes but hardly homicidal. And even if they were prone towards violence there was no benefit to hurting anyone who was actively helping them. Within the safety and secrecy of his own head, Jack could admit that Shawn was far better at finding treasure than Jack himself was. The kid had a gift and it was pretty gosh darn amazing – if inconveniently saddled with a morality clause that hampered his true genius. You couldn't really call yourself a treasure hunter if you weren't at least a little bit of a scoundrel.
What it came down to was a choice between going back, and risking an encounter with Gabe and his crew and whatever pain that would cause his body – or going to town to make an anonymous call to the authorities before dropping out of sight until the smoke cleared. The first plan had the advantage of heroics – an appeal that could also help with the ladies. The big disadvantage, of course, would be disfigurement. The second plan had the disadvantage of leaving his family holding the bag with Gabe and his boys. On the other hand it guaranteed Jack got away unharmed while also calling in the save. And that was looking really, really appealing right now.
All of this he debated while walking towards his car – already angling towards the rear tire where he'd stashed his key.
His hand was tapping over the dusty rubber, crouched in the weeds, when something like animal instinct, long ago fine-tuned and regularly utilized, made him turn to look over his shoulder...
Dan stood behind him, shotgun leveled, as he slowly lifted his hand to spin the key ring on one finger.
The man grinned; pig nose wrinkling. “Looking for these?”
Disclaimer: All publicly recognizable characters and settings are the property of their respective owners. The original characters and plot are the property of the author. No money is being made from this work. No copyright infringement is intended.